Another COP has been and gone, with two jam-packed weeks of conferences, talks and agreements taking place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. This was the 27th edition of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, more commonly referred to as COP, and, just like last year, we’ve been on tenterhooks to see the environmental challenges faced and how the world plans to tackle them.
Why is COP27 important?
It is no surprise that leading scientists worldwide continue to state that the planet is now in hazardous territory in terms of climate change. Every time we delay taking action, we move closer to irreparable damage to the climate and its effect on human needs. Something we want to avoid at all costs. Obviously.
In fact, as we’ve heard more and more, almost half the global population is currently suffering the impact of climate change in highly vulnerable regions, with an increased chance of being displaced and even dying due to environmental disasters such as floods, droughts, and storms.
Drastic changes need to take place right now to face this dire situation, and that’s what COP27 is all about. (It basically couldn’t be more critical). A rare opportunity for so many world leaders and decision-makers across the globe to come together and come up with effective solutions and discuss how to implement these changes, COP 27 is paving the way forward into a healthier, safer, and greener future for all, which is what we’re all after, right?
What’s the role of architecture and the built environment in climate change?
With the built environment currently responsible for almost 40% of energy-related CO2 emissions worldwide, it’s clearly a sector that needs a change in habits. Worryingly, it’s only getting worse. In fact, last year, operational CO2 emissions peaked at 5% higher than in 2020.
Why is the construction sector’s carbon footprint so high? You may be wondering…
The answer’s before our very eyes, with rapid urbanisation registering as the main contributing factor. Buildings are being thrown up quickly and cheaply with no thought whatsoever given to the environment. And it’s not just buildings: renovations and demolitions generate billions of tonnes of waste which is then promptly shipped off to landfills to sit there for the next few hundred years.
With this in mind, the importance of reducing carbon emissions across all sectors was reiterated at COP27, intending to keep global temperatures below a 1.5°C increase. That’s easier said than done. However, we’re pleased to see that this year’s COP saw the Clean Construction Accelerator being announced during the lead-up to the event, which aims to half the embodied emissions attributed to the global built environment by 2030. It’s certainly a start!
The Roof Over Our Heads Campaign
It’s often in wealthier countries where sustainable, low-carbon-emitting housing can be seen in many modern constructions as well as renovated buildings. Efficient heating and cooling systems, using locally sourced building materials, building to respect the surrounding environment etc., are all part and parcel nowadays. Building codes in Europe are becoming more particular about what is and isn’t acceptable with new constructions throughout the whole building process, but what about poorer regions?
Unfortunately, despite building codes being in place for official constructions, there are times when building sustainably just isn’t affordable for so many people in poverty, and they end up living informally. But something’s being done about that too. We’re pleased to hear about the recently announced Roof Over Our Heads campaign, which was launched at this year’s COP. They aim to “deliver resilient, affordable, low carbon homes for 2bn people by 2050” and that “through better design, construction, and access to finance, 1 billion people by 2030 can live in decent, safe, affordable and resilient homes”, a mission we applaud and look forward to seeing the results of in the next decade.
So, governments are getting involved, but what are individuals doing?
For one, people like you and us are each doing our bit to ensure our homes are as sustainable as possible, right? But more and more individuals across the world are getting involved. Have you heard of the Running out of Time relay? Though it doesn’t sound very positive, the initiative had thousands of people run, cycle, row, sail, windsurf and ski their way across the 7,767km between Scotland and Egypt, working together in a symbol of hope that we’re not too late after all, and that together, we can make a change.
People are making a stand worldwide, and we can’t help but feel like we’re finally all pulling in the same direction!
What should we look out for next year at COP28?
Next year’s conference is due to kick off on 30th November and run until the 12th of December 2023 in the United Arab Emirates. COP27 has shown that there are ways and means to face these enormous challenges to improve the built environment. It has also highlighted how vital changes within the building industry need to take place in order to reach crucial targets of halving CO2 emissions by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050.
Inefficient, high-emitting buildings are, finally, no longer an option, and we couldn’t be more pleased to hear it.
Looking to the future, coalitions of NGOs and organisations are proposing the built environment to be a top priority for COP28 to find and implement solutions urgently. We look forward to seeing what steps will be implemented this coming year and hope that these ambitious targets can be met.
Globally, we’re on the right path, so, spurred on by this knowledge, let’s continue to do our bit!