COP26: Four Key Takeaways For the Built Environment
The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, otherwise known as COP26, concluded on Friday 12th November after 13 days of meetings, discussions and speeches by heads of state and country representatives, climate experts, industry leaders and campaigners. The dedicated built environment day took place on Thursday 11th November. Although there were no landmark national-level agreements targeting buildings, there is some positive news for the decarbonization agenda, which we will discuss in our four key takeaways for the built environment:
- The primary outcome of COP26 was the agreement of a new deal by all 197 participating countries, named the Glasgow Climate Pact, which outlines 97 articles containing measures that will try and keep global warming below 1.5°C by 2050. The highest-profile element was Article 36, which outlines the need to transition to low-emission energy systems, scale-up clean power, increase energy efficiencies, and ‘phase down’ coal power. India and China notably requested the change to ‘phase down’ from ‘phase out’ coal power. This is another signal the world is undergoing an energy transition towards more flexible and lower-carbon power systems, which will create new opportunities for grid-interactive buildings and on-site microgrids.
- An important issue highlighted by many speakers during COP26 was the effect of climate change on poorer countries and the responsibility of richer countries to support or finance damage mitigation and decarbonization schemes. Many developing countries still experience widespread poverty and believe it unfair that they should be limited in using established fuels, such as coal, when their historical carbon emissions are negligible compared to more developed nations. Such countries also have limited funds to invest in renewable technologies and energy efficiency measures. During the COP26 built environment day, the UK government launched the Urban Climate Action programme backed with £27.5 million ($37 million) funding to support cities in Africa, Asia, and Latin America to reduce their emissions and move towards net-zero targets. Although this announcement signals a move in the right direction, the level of funding is grossly insufficient to make a real difference, and the UK, with other nations, will need to step up financial assistance in this critical area.
- In addition to governmental meetings and discussions, another vital aspect of COP26 is to bring together business and industry leaders to develop net-zero commitments for the private sector. During the built environment day, the World Green Building Council (WGBC) announced that an additional 44 businesses had signed up to its Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment. This takes the total number of signatories to 156, consisting of businesses, cities and states with a combined turnover of over $300 billion. The commitment considers the carbon emissions during the total lifecycle of a building, from construction to demolition, and requires signatories to have reduced total portfolio carbon emissions by 2030 and to be net zero by 2050. Such commitments are an important way for organizations to reinforce internal net zero goals and stay ahead of impending regulation.
- COP26 highlighted that many local governments of cities, states and regions are more progressive than national governments in instating decarbonization goals and regulations for the built environment. Organizations such as C40, the Under2 Coalition, and the US Climate Alliance represent cities, states and regions worldwide that are taking measures to decarbonize and limit global warming to 1.5 °C by 2050. At COP26, 68 city, state and regional governments signed up to a range of actions to focus on shorter-term decarbonization commitments, using 2030 as an intermediary milestone to 2050. Some local governments aim to undercut national net zero targets and put the built environment at the centre of policies. For example, the State of Baden-Württemberg in Germany aims to be net zero by 2040 through measures such as obligating the installation of solar cells on new buildings. Firms can expect many local governments to bring in new policies to tackle energy efficiency problems in buildings. For example, in 2019, New York City announced Local Law 97, which requires buildings over 25,000 square feet to meet minimum energy efficiency and emissions standards by 2024, with more stringent measures coming into force over time. The city aims to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050.