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RIBA at COP26

Read about our activity from COP26 in Glasgow.

18 November 2021

COP26 in Glasgow was a summit bringing together policymakers from across the globe to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

We went to demonstrate the sectors growing capabilities when it comes to decarbonisation and call for urgent political support - as outlined within our Built for the Environment report.

You can find out more about what we got up to and catch-up on event recordings below.

Events

Tuesday 2 November, 9:30am to 11am

Built Environment Market Transformation

Taking place in the Buildings Pavilion in the Blue Zone at COP26, this event will look at the current status of emissions in the built environment, what needs to be done to reduce them, and how we can transform the market towards net zero.

Speaking alongside representatives from the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction, World Green Building Council and World Business Council for Sustainable Development, our Director of Policy and Public Affairs, Andrew Forth, will present our Built for the Environment report, which has been endorsed by over 200 businesses and organisations across the sector.

Missed it? Catch up here.

Friday 5 November, 8am to 9am

Empowering young people to become the climate-aware built environment professionals of the future: What do we need to do now?

This event forms part of our partnership UKGBC to deliver the COP26 Virtual Pavilion - Build Better Now. It will start with short video submissions from young people and early-career professionals - and move into a panel discussion with sector leaders including RIBA sustainability expert, Mina Hasman.

Register to access the recording.

Wednesday 10 November, 9am to 10am

Designing a green and resilient built environment: What do we need to do now and in the future?

This event, featuring RIBA Councillor and sustainability expert Maria Smith, will explore how design needs to change to drive action towards achieving a resilient and net zero built environment that enhances nature, both now and in the future.

Register to access the recording.

Wednesday 10 November, 12pm to 1pm

Planning for transport and connectivity: How do we build holistic net zero and resilient places of the future?

Our Sustainable Futures Group Chair, Gary Clark, will join this discussion, looking at concepts such as 20 minute neighbourhoods, 15 minute cities, low traffic neighbourhoods and place-based approaches that aim to develop attractive places where people want to live whilst minimising the need to travel and maximising active travel and the use of public transport.

Register to access the recording.

Wednesday 10 November, 3pm to 4:15pm

65% by 2030 / ZERO by 2040: Top 200 global firms and organisations lead with 1.5°C climate actions

Here our CEO, Alan Vallance, will take part in an official UN-side Blue Zone event, discussing how we're helping our members and the wider built environment sector to reduce carbon emissions.

Missed it? Catch up here.

Thursday 11 November, 12pm to 1pm

Inside the RIBA International Awards for Built Environment Day

This virtual event will be led by the Chair of our Awards Group, Jo Bacon. To mark the official Built Environment Day at COP26, it will explore five case studies from this year’s RIBA International Awards for Excellence winners.

On Thursday 11 November the conference will focus specifically on Cities, Regions and Built Environment.

On Friday 12 November we'll also be working with Glasgow-based architects to deliver workshops to groups of 13-16 year old students, teaching them about the role of an architect, particularly around sustainability. The students will learn about reusing, redesigning and reimagining buildings, considerations when undertaking a repurposing or retrofitting project, and they will ultimately be asked to redesign a building themselves using all of the information they’ve learned.

Live updates from 1 to 12 November 2021

Friday 12 November

As we leave Glasgow, the departing mood remains hopeful as the last formal day of negotiations are due to come to a close at 6pm. Revised draft texts have been released but nothing has been signed. We wait with bated breath.

Yesterday was a huge day for the built environment. Eye-opening and encouraging, it was an acknowledgement of the power of architects – and the wider sector – to bring about serious change.

If architects scale and speed up the drive to net zero – using our 2030 Climate Challenge targets – we can dramatically reduce the amount of global carbon emissions.

Thursday 11 November

It’s the one we’ve all been waiting for – Cities, Regions and Built Environment Day. Today is the first time that the built environment has featured as a day on the COP schedule since 2015, and we’re thrilled to see nations acknowledge the crucial role of the built environment in reaching net zero.

As you’d expect – it’s been busy. First we listened to DLUHC Minister, Eddie Hughes, speak about government ambitions to reduce built environment emissions; then we joined Derwent, Fosters and the ICLEI for a varied discussion on low carbon urban design; before heading to the UKGBC’s launch of the Whole Life Carbon Roadmap.

Alongside back-to-back events in Glasgow, we also hosted our own virtual talk with Awards Group Chair, Jo Bacon, examining our International Award for Excellence winners.

While we can’t help but feel enthused by today’s discussions, the overall mood isn’t as positive. Despite the circulation of draft texts, UN Secretary General, António Guterres, criticised the summit’s lack of ambition. With one day left, the pressure mounts on global leaders. Will we get a Glasgow Agreement?

Wednesday 10 November

Today's focus was travel. An important one for us because we know that transport and buildings are intrinsically linked. If your house isn’t close to basic amenities like schools, shops and public transport, and you’re forced to rely on personal car use, it’s unlikely to be sustainable. The good news was that 24 countries (including the UK) promised to phase out petrol and diesel-powered cars, but the US, China and Germany unfortunately declined.

We also saw the announcement of a ‘draft text’ of decisions and resolutions – negotiations are looking up. And there’s reason to be cautiously optimistic, as the document mentions the phasing out coal and fossil fuel subsidies – something that's never been included in a COP decision before. But we can't get too excited, it's not been agreed yet, and yesterday the PM urged other national leaders to give their negotiators more leverage to reach a final deal. Watch this space.

The other big story of the day was about China and the US – who have said they will work together to achieve the 1.5C temperature goal set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement. As two of the world’s biggest CO2 emitters, this is really positive news.

It was also an extremely busy day for us at the RIBA, with three events throughout the day.

We kicked off with two UKGBC virtual pavilion - Build Better Now - events. First up, Maria Smith presented our Built for the Environment report at a discussion on future-proofing the built environment then, at midday, Gary Clark, took to the helm to highlight the importance of embedding sustainability into the planning system. You can catch up on both of these sessions and take a tour of the virtual pavilion here.

Last, but certainly not least, our CEO, Alan Vallance joined Architecture2030, and the American and Australian Institutes of Architects at an official UNFCCC side event to discuss how architects can lead the way and address the climate and biodiversity emergencies. There’s certainly lots to do – but, as Alan stressed, architects have the skills and knowledge to lead the way. Catch up on the discussion here and please sign up to our 2030 Climate Challenge (if you haven’t already).

The anticipation builds for tomorrow’s Cities, Regions and Built Environment Day.

Tuesday 9 November

Day nine at COP26 covered the theme of gender, alongside science and innovation. Indigenous women and politicians such as Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, and Democratic congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke about the importance of involving women in climate conversations; and this was echoed by Alok Sharma, who said: “we know from our efforts to tackle climate change that it is more effective when we put women and girls at the heart of those efforts.”

On science and innovation, UK Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, highlighted the role that science and technology has to play in cutting emissions and measuring the impacts of climate change. But, worryingly, the Climate Action Tracker (CAT) also announced that based on the short-term goals countries have set at COP26 temperature rises will top a disastrous 2.4C by the end of this century. We clearly need more ambition.

We also ventured out of the Blue Zone today to join day one of the Design Council’s Design for Planet Festival at the V&A Dundee. From Joe Macleod’s thoughts on how we communicate the end of life of products to Kate Raworth’s visual framework for sustainable development (doughnut economics), the conversation was wide-ranging and made participants consider the undeniably positive effect that sustainable design decisions have on people’s everyday lives.

Monday 8 November

Week two kicks-off!

We are already seeing the effects of a changing climate, so how do we adapt and prevent further loss and damage? Adaptation was today’s theme – a particularly relevant one for the built environment as the flooding and overheating of buildings becomes more and more prevalent.

Today, our CEO, Alan Vallance, met with the Secretary of State at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Nadine Dorries MP, to discuss how we can protect and futureproof our cultural assets. The discussion covered how the RIBA is embedding sustainability into our awards programme, how the built environment can better make use of technology to tackle the climate crisis, and how we are driving change to make architecture more inclusive.

We also saw former US President, Barack Obama, take to the stage with a rousing speech, calling on global leaders to “step up and step up now.” While acknowledging some progress had been made, he said “we are nowhere near where we need to be at” for cutting emissions and that “most nations have failed to be as ambitious as they need to be.”

Are you a RIBA Chartered Practice? Sign up to our 2030 Climate Challenge to place your projects on the trajectory to net zero.

Saturday 6 November

Saturday was a quieter day in the Exhibition Centre, this may have been because it was the weekend, or because tens of thousands marched through Glasgow to take part in worldwide demonstrations against climate inaction at COP26. From London to Melbourne, people took to the streets over the world in over 250 events and a digital global rally.

But at COP26 the discussions for nature day went on, and 45 governments pledged urgent action and investment to protect nature and shift to more sustainable ways of farming.

It’s likely we will see negotiations ramp up in the coming days.

Friday 5 November

Youth and public empowerment were the themes of today’s discussions. The key development was the outcome from a meeting with education and environment ministers, who committed to the integration of sustainability and climate change in formal education systems: as part of the core curriculum, in guidelines, teacher training, examination standards and at multiple levels through institutions. They also committed to the integration of sustainability and climate change in professional training, public awareness and other areas of non-formal and informal learning.

Today we also held our first event as part of Build Better Now – the COP26 virtual built environment pavilion. Mina Hasman, Associate Director, Sustainability Lead at SOM and member of our Sustainable Futures Group, joined a panel discussing how we can empower the next generation of built environment professionals to have the skills required to deliver net zero. “We need to come together, share responsibility, and collaborate” Mina presented. You can catch up on the session here.

Thursday 4 November

Day four of COP26 focused on the cross-cutting theme of energy. The big announcement of the day was that a coalition of over 190 countries and organisations have agreed to phase out coal power and end support for new coal power plants. Countries including Canada, Poland, South Korea, Ukraine and Vietnam will all phase out their use of coal for electricity generation over the coming years. But it didn't go unnoticed that some of the world’s biggest coal-dependent economies including Australia, China, India and the US were missing from the deal.

What does this mean for the built environment? While these developments are welcome, we know that energy isn't necessarily our biggest problem. In most of the buildings we build between now and 2050, embodied carbon emissions will be more significant than those emissions released through energy use. These announcements must therefore be matched with plans to reduce embodied carbon.

We've also got to improve the energy efficiency of our buildings - something we've been calling for through our Greener Homes report. What's the point of pumping renewable energy into leaky buildings or homes that overheat? You can also find out more about design essentials for an energy efficient building here.

Wednesday 3 November

Today’s COP theme was finance - asking the question on everyone’s lips - how will we pay for net zero?

It seems that former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has made some progress by persuading 450 organisations controlling 130 trillion dollars (or around 40% of global private assets) to shift finances to fund activities that support the drive to net zero. This means that bank financing which may have previously funded a coal mine will be diverted to renewable energy or to a mortgage product that subsidises energy efficient homes.

Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer, also proposed new requirements for large UK companies and financial institutions – by 2023 they will be required to set detailed public plans on how they intend to hit climate targets and move to a low carbon future.

Turning to a different type of accounting, the new Built Environment Carbon Database – something we’ve been helping to develop – was also published today. Scheduled to launch next year, the database will bring together existing data in a single, free-to-access location, and should act as the main UK platform to store new carbon assessments and generate both project-level and product-level benchmarks. You can find out more here.

We’re expecting some updates on energy tomorrow - how does our government plan to decarbonise the grid? Watch this space.

Tuesday 2 November

It’s been another busy day for global leaders, with 122 countries promising to end and reverse deforestation by 2030 - the COP26 climate summit's first major deal. Also pledging to cut methane emission levels by 30% by 2030, over 100 countries have signed up to the Global Methane Pledge, put forward by the US and EU as an effective way to slow warming in the short term.

The UK-led plan to speed up affordable and clean technology worldwide by 2030 was also agreed by 40 world leaders, including the US, India, Australia, Turkey, China and EU states. This will see countries and businesses coordinate their climate action each year to speed and scale up the development and deployment of clean technologies in five key areas: power, road transport, steel, hydrogen and agriculture.

Wrapping up the day, PM Boris Johnson acknowledged that the job is not done, but said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the progress that has been made.

Today, we also held our first event in the Buildings Pavilion in COP26’s Blue Zone - a panel discussion exploring the current status of built environment emissions, what we must do to reduce them, and how we can transform the market towards net zero.

Speaking alongside representatives from the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction, World Green Building Council and World Business Council for Sustainable Development, our Director of Policy and Public Affairs, Andrew Forth, presented our Built for the Environment report, highlighting the need for government and industry to work together to bring about the change needed to reach net zero. It’s been endorsed by over 200 businesses and organisations across the sector - and we’ll be sharing the findings with policymakers during COP and over the coming weeks.

Monday 1 November

As world leaders are meeting in Glasgow for the opening of COP26, we’re sharing our first blog post.

The opening session of the conference, the World Leaders Summit, saw speeches from US President Joe Biden, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United Nations (UN) Secretary General António Guterres who suggested that countries should update their climate pledges annually, rather than every five years. To put it into perspective, under present targets we are on track for warming of 2.7C by 2100 - which the UN says would result in "climate catastrophe".

In his opening speech, UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, also shared a stark warning with fellow leaders. Future generations would judge those present at the summit with “bitterness and with a resentment” if it failed, he said. “They will not forgive us – they will know that Glasgow was the historic turning point when history failed to turn.”

Young people will hold us to account, but should also be part of the solution. To demonstrate this, over the weekend, we hosted an event, as part of Expo 2020 Dubai and to coincide with the World Cities Day showcasing architecture students’ visions for future urban design. The event, featuring our CEO Alan Vallance (virtually), saw leading architects and professionals share their knowledge on climate-proofing, and showcased six inspiring videos created by students about designing climate-resilient spaces. We’ll be able to share these videos with you shortly, along with an event summary for those who missed it.

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