The IPCC report - the industry responds

Global warming

In advance of COP26 in November, the  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their report yesterday. To meet their objective of limiting global temperature rises of 1.5oC, the demands on the construction sector will be great. Here's what the industry had to say in response. 

“This report is an ‘as clear as it gets’ wake up call to Governments, Businesses, and Citizens to start doing their bit.” – Suzanne Wallace, IES

The built environment industry will have a major role to play, and major changes to make, if the most serious risks outlined in the IPCC report released yesterday ahead of COP26 in November are to be avoided.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report said human influence is “Very Likely” (90%) the main driver of the global retreat of the glaciers, loss of sea-ice and changes to global surface temperatures since the 1990s, and there is a consensus in the responses from the industry regarding what must be done to combat further, irreversible damage and limit temperature rise to only 1.5oC, but the practicalities need to be addressed in greater detail yet. 

Suzanne Wallace of IES noted that although it is possible to decarbonise every building in the world,the built environment is one area where we know we are inherently adverse to change”, and this was echoed by Laura Mansell-Thomas, Senior Sustainability and M&E Partner at consultancy Ingleton Wood, who saidin the built environment, we have all the technologies we need – not withstanding that better, cheaper ones may be round the corner – but not the knowledge, will or joined-up thinking to put them into place.”

Joel Callow, Director and Passivhaus consultant at QODA Consulting, recognised the challenge but struck a more optimistic tone, saying “while there are many levels of action against climate change… by far the most powerful change is big reductions in CO2 emissions. Thankfully, in the UK construction industry, we already have a skilled and motivated workforce (though further training is urgently needed) and an excellent range of tools and targets to achieve and exceed net zero. It is now a matter of applying them universally and quickly to all projects. Getting the embodied and operational CO2 emissions of all our projects down below zero is the urgent and present challenge of our professional lives.”

Calls for direct and immediate Government action was one major theme in comment from industry, as David Smith of the Energy Networks Association said “Today's warning is stark. Action must be taken now to address the climate emergency. We urge the government to push forward in publishing the long-awaited Net-Zero, Hydrogen, and Heat and Buildings Strategies”, and Stew Horne of the Energy Saving Trust expanding on this point with the UK Government must now show real leadership by recommitting to delivering a greener recovery. The UK Government has set some of the most ambitious climate pledges of any major economy in the world.

“The upcoming Heat and Buildings Strategy, Net Zero Strategy and Treasury Spending Review will provide the practical steps to reduce carbon emissions and must ensure a fair and equitable transition to net zero. Greener ways of doing things, which currently feel unobtainable or undesirable for many people, must be made affordable and attractive.”

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Similarly, Luke Osborne of the Electrical Contractors Association (ECA) added “It’s now time to throttle up and upskill and reskill our electrotechnical workforce. The time for piecemeal, short-term solutions has long passed. We have been warned more than enough – only long-term, concrete government action will pay long-term dividends for society, the economy and the environment.”

There was also substantial recognition of the effort private industry will have to make.

Julie Hirigoyen, Chief Executive of the UK Green Building Council, flagged up that business must act. “With 21-22% of the UK’s total carbon emissions (including imported emissions) directly controlled by the built environment sector, it is clear our sector has a significant role to play. Tackling this challenge will be tough, but it also represents a huge opportunity to deliver valuable green jobs and better, healthier places. Built environment businesses can, and must, lead the charge", and  Gillian Charlesworth of the Building Research Establishment (BRE) struck a note of caution about relying on government when she said that “The government heat and buildings strategy has been imminent for a year – and now The Times has reported that it may have been delayed again until autumn.”

This concern about the Heat and Buildings Strategy was also raised by Mervyn Pilley of the Energy Systems & Technology Association (ESTA), who said With less than three months to go [to COP26] it is truly unbelievable that two key strategy documents – the Heat and Buildings and Net Zero strategies - are still not published and being discussed, with the apparent argument between politicians going on about who is going to pay for tackling the climate crisis. Our opinion is that the free market is not going to solve the huge challenges on its own and that a much larger investment from the Government than so far forthcoming is required now. Knee jerk policy is not what is required today. Existing, long established and proven solutions for energy efficiency exist and need to be implemented at scale. Direct government financial intervention to fund these solutions are needed immediately.”

The IPCC AR6 report on climate change is a publicly available document with a very readable executive summary, easily read in under half an hour. It is an excellent piece of science communication.

Readers are invited to let us know their thoughts on twitter or linkedin.

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