With the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt now concluded it’s time to reflect on what was achieved, and the next steps we must take. While the global conference moved us forward in some areas, it also highlighted cause for concern in others. It’s clear that there is a huge amount of work still to do.
Global agreements and disagreements
From the outset financial assistance for vulnerable countries for “loss and damage” was a key focus of COP27. Loss and damage – which refers to the money needed to cover the existing economic, cultural, and social impacts caused by climate change – has been one of the most contentious issues in climate negotiations for over a decade. Positively COP27 delivered a global fund for loss and damage - this outcome will benefit some of the most vulnerable people across the world.
However, it was not all good news. Keeping 1.5C alive is on “life support” UK COP26 President, Alok Sharma said. UN Climate Chief, Simon Stiell, highlighted that there was “no room for backsliding”. He went on to say that national plans for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 are not enough to stop harmful global temperature rises. We need to be reducing our climate impact now.
Turning to buildings, climate ministers from across the world gathered to announce the new Buildings Breakthrough. The Buildings Breakthrough statement - “near-zero emission and resilient buildings are the new normal by 2030” – serves as a joint vision and a rallying point for all countries. UK Climate Minister, Graham Stuart spoke at the event, acknowledging that buildings are an enormous source of emissions and the importance of harnessing the full power of collective action.
RIBA at COP27
It was a busy few days for the RIBA delegation which included Duncan Baker-Brown, RIBA Council member and co-chair of the RIBA’s climate action expert advisory group, and Smith Mordak, editor of the Built for the Environment report and member of the climate action expert advisory group, who joined me on the ground in Egypt from 14 to 18 November.
We took part in three events in the Blue Zone - the UN accredited area of the conference. The first in the Buildings Pavilion, Duncan joined the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC), a member of the European Parliament, and VELUX in a panel discussion that explored the type of ambition loops needed between businesses and governments to create a thriving and resilient buildings sector poised for a net zero economy. Duncan highlighted the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge and the importance of Post Occupancy Evaluation.
Also in the Buildings Pavilion, Smith joined the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and WorldGBC on a panel that focussed on demonstrating actions beyond ambitions and showcasing implementable solutions to reducing whole life carbon emissions. Smith was asked to focus on the role that data can play in achieving this. Smith highlighted that we should collaborate and share data, through tools and initiatives such as the Built Environment Carbon Database and the UK Net Zero Building Standard, key projects the RIBA is collaborating on with other organisations across the sector.
Smith also took part in an event organised by WorldGBC and C40 Cities on how the built environment needs to transform and scale up to achieve the new Buildings Breakthrough, announced earlier that day. The role of public demand, private demand, finance and policy, and regulation were all discussed.
Just outside the Blue Zone in the Climate Innovation Zone, Duncan joined a session on how we can use local solutions to reduce global emissions. Duncan highlighted the key role that architects must play in reaching net zero and the importance of reducing whole life carbon.
Both Smith and Duncan also joined private roundtables. Smith’s focussed on how regulation and policy can progress decarbonisation in the built environment and Duncan’s focussed on reflections on COP27 and what concrete actions need to be taken by COP28. We also joined a roundtable with US Green Building Council, the American Institute of Architects, and team members of US Senate Majority Leader, Senator Charles E. Schumer, to discuss retrofitting and technology policy and similarities and differences between the UK and the US.
With COP27 over, and many now looking ahead to COP28, it’s important to pause, take a step back, and assess where we are now. We all have a role to play in tackling the climate crisis and there are actions we can all take today to help reach net zero. The RIBA Policy and Public Affairs team will continue to lobby government to embed operational and embodied carbon targets into regulations, advocate for the benefits of POE and entrench sustainability within planning and procurement processes. Our message to government remains the same – architects are critical to the decarbonisation of the built environment. For industry, I encourage you to reduce the carbon emissions of the built environment by embedding our 2030 Climate Challenge targets in all future projects.