COP26 - Industry roundup

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As COP26 ends, we've pulled together comment and thoughts about the event and issues raised from across the industry. 

“Commitment without action is just talking”; David Attenborough.

Whilst a lot was achieved, possibly the defining image of The UN Climate Change Conference, COP26, was Alok Sharma trying not to cry and apologising after ambitions for reducing coal use were watered down on the last day.

The built environment had a major role in the conference with the 11th of November being devoted to what is needed, and what can be done in the sector. Now the conference is over, we’ve taken the time to round up thoughts and reactions from across the industry.

Laura McGadie, Group Head of Energy at the Energy Saving Trust sensed a “real coalescing of wills and resolve to work together across all sectors to tackle climate change with real urgency”, and Dave Evans, CEO of the National Energy Foundation echoed this, saying it had been “a positive couple of weeks” but plenty more needed to be done on the practicalities. Wider reaction was generally but by no means universally positive, with most comments suggesting that at best the agreements were far from enough to achieve the stated goals of the conference.  Many voices from the industry went on to reflect on how it is possible to do more than governments agreed, and how the industry can unilaterally improve on those agreements where they fall short. Julie Hirigoyen, Chief Executive of The UK Green Building Council said " very encouragingly, a significant body of our industry has indicated it is willing and ready to act" but added "we need faster and bolder government action, solutions and pathways to help drive change...from a UK perspective, we still need major policy interventions to fulfil existing UK commitments"

The built environment constitutes as much as 40% of carbon emissions, of which an estimated 17% alone is from fossil fuels for heating and hot water, and so energy efficiency was identified as being at the forefront of what is needed. The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) launched their Net Zero Whole Life roadmap at COP26, which called for the Government to go beyond  the commitments in the Heat and Building Strategy,. Actuate UK joined calls from UKGBC for a national net zero retrofit strategy to improve collaboration between government and the construction sector.

Richard Maggs, Head of Environment & Sustainability at Bureau Veritas said that while the Government’s Heat and Building Strategy is welcome, it does not go far enough and so “This is why it’s refreshing to see the UKGBC’s Net Zero Whole Life Carbon Roadmap for the Built Environment; a complete roadmap that includes a whole life carbon approach. The UKGBC’s recommendations for the Government to publish a National Retrofit Strategy by 2022, which will transform the UK building environment – whilst phasing out fossil fuel heating – is key in meeting next step targets in the race to net zero, and we fully support its key recommendations to make change happen.”

Terry Sharp of the BCIA said “ Energy efficiency in buildings is one of the biggest factors affecting climate change and the building controls sector has a vital role to play in creating a greener built environment…  the engineers of tomorrow are learning from mistakes we’ve made in the past and are more aware that the technology that goes into buildings today will have a significant bearing on their environmental credentials…”, and Ingrid Berkeley, Senior Sustainability consultant at Max Fordham, called for greater installation of heat pumps on market, environmental and moral grounds, and greater advocacy of Passivhaus, saying “buildings must be energy efficient, as well as fuelled from a sustainable source; not only to reduce carbon impact, but also to reduce inequality and fuel poverty.”

Marvyn Pilley, Executive Director of ESTA, added “In a world challenged by major energy market disruptions, and the struggle to preserve its own future; energy efficiency makes total sense. Using less energy and using the energy that you have to use more effectively has to be a key approach. Energy efficiency should be the start of every net zero journey”.

Addressing construction and new build, Sam Stacey, Change Director of Innovate UK, said “We know that we can create buildings that use about two thirds less energy”, but Michelle Agha-Hossain of BSRIA and Actuate UK observed that 80% of buildings which will be in use by 2050 have already been built and highlighted the importance of retrofitting existing stock to meet the target of decarbonising buildings by that date.

She said that decarbonising buildings will have a major role not just in fighting climate change, but also in occupant safety, health and comfort “and this is where Building Services Engineers will play a pivotal role”.

Similarly Brian Swett, Director of Cities and Sustainable real estate at Arup, raised the need for a change of both attitude and equipment in retrofitting, saying “All the delivery actors, from large firms like Arup to small mom-and-pop HVAC shops, need to know that every time they’re replacing a piece of equipment, there's an opportunity for greater efficiency or electrification. We’re going to have to take fossil fuel-based technologies and equipment out of the distribution and replacement supply chain over time”, a sentiment shared by Susan Hone-Brooks of ChapmanBDSP, who said “This is going to mean our industry taking bold decisions and stepping up to taking risks, with adoption of new technologies and delivery of buildings with which occupants may feel uneasy in the short term”

Don McLean of IES highlighted the difficulties of only relying on legislative efforts at the design stage of projects, pointing out that this focusses on buildings when they are empty, and not the experience opf people who manage and run them when they are occupied.

 “The methods we have at this moment in time will not solve the problem because of the inherent inefficiencies that have been put into the system through the way that regulation is currently used”, he said. “What is done on paper from a design perspective works well in relation to compliance, but those who are trying to make the building work and are looking at the energy bills see a very different world”.

What do you think? Let us know on Twitter or Linkedin or drop us a line direct here at MBS

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