COP27: the role of building performance vital in tackling climate crisis

Phillipa Grant is a partner and global director of sustainability at AESG

Following a compromised outcome in Glasgow last year, with 200 countries agreeing climate action must accelerate to keep the Paris commitment goals alive, the political, economic and environmental turmoil of 2022 threatens the international cooperation and focus needed to meet the 1.5-2.0 degree target.

This summer saw the UK exceed 40°C for the first time in recorded history. Due to increasing temperatures and insufficient overheating management within homes there have been 4,000 heat-related deaths since 2018. Now the cost of living crisis, fueled by the war in Ukraine, is resulting in forecasts of an escalation in fuel poverty and further mortalities this winter. Globally, frontline climate crisis countries are experiencing even more devastating effects, with the most recent flooding in Pakistan impacting around 33 million people.

This is the challenge that awaits delegates at the upcoming COP27 conference in Egypt this November. In Glasgow, key achievements were celebrated such as commitments to halt and reverse deforestation, the phasing out of coal power and further transparency and standardisation within the financial sector.

Climate action, however, appears to have stalled since last year’s talks, with current policies keeping us on track for a 2.7°C rise in global temperature, or a 2.4°C rise based on 2030 targets. The construction industry has become increasingly frustrated at the lack of policy around buildings-related emissions, and the translation of commitments into action has been woefully inadequate to date.

Current trajectory, Climate Action Tracker

Some 80% of existing buildings will still be operational in 2050, by which time all buildings must be net zero carbon across their whole lifecycle in order to achieve the Paris agreement.

Building performance regulations are a necessary and critical means to meet the target. With only 43 countries implementing mandatory green building codes for both residential and non-residential properties in 2020 (most of which are insufficiently net zero aligned) this is a major gap to drive the necessary rate of change.

While we have seen a notable uplift in performance regulations within the UK, leaders in the net zero movement need to be setting targets to exceed the Paris agreement goals, not simply meeting them with bare-minimum measures, while providing financial and technical support to others.

Long-term policy development has often suffered at the hands of short-sighted measures. The alignment of cost of living crisis support measures and energy security strategies with the decarbonisation agenda would ultimately achieve secure and sustainable economic growth. For the private sector, investment in our existing building stock may cost today, but the forward-thinking investor recognises the opportunity to mitigate rising energy bills and meet the net zero needs of tenants, as well as the risk of not acting and being left with stranded assets.

COP27 will provide countries the cross-border platform needed to agree clear, feasible actions to take forward the commitments made in Paris and Glasgow. A universal challenge, climate change has no respect for borders, and as such a collaborative, coordinated and global response is needed to prevent the worst outcome being realised.

Short-term political gains, stop-gap measures and self-interest must be set aside to achieve the unachievable and protect the future of our people and planet.

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