COP27: “We are in the fight of our lives. And we are losing.”

Last updated: 9th November 2022

As world leaders took to the stage in Egypt yesterday to begin negotiations at the COP27 climate summit, it was hard not to be struck by an overwhelming feeling of despair at the lack of collective progress that has been made since COP26 last year. Perhaps the standout quote of day one came from UN Secretary General, António Guterres, who did not hold back with a powerful opening speech:

“We are in the fight of our lives. And we are losing. Greenhouse gas emissions keep growing. Global temperatures keep rising. And our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible.

“We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.”

If you have been following recent climate reports, it is easy to share his frustration. Just last month, the UNEP released their latest Emissions Gap Report, condemning the progress made since last year’s climate summit as “woefully inadequate.” Many criticised the Glasgow Pact reached at COP26 last year for being too weak, and it seems they were right to be sceptical. The UNEP report found that, despite the promises of many countries that they would increase their climate pledges, the updated national pledges that have actually come to light since COP26 will make a negligible difference in curbing global emissions. The UNEP calculate that these will shave less than 1% off of global emissions predictions by 2030, the equivalent of removing just 0.5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gas emissions (GtCO2e) from the atmosphere. 

Current policy projections, they have warned, look set to put us on track for a 2.8°C temperature rise by the end of the century. That is 0.1C higher than was estimated last year and will take us well beyond the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to well below 2°C, and ideally no more than 1.5°C.

Many vulnerable nations are already feeling the devastating impacts of global inaction on climate change and are calling on developed nations to pay for the loss and damage already caused. Sadly, many of these voices have gone unheard as governments have grappled to confront a number of other global crises – from the war in Ukraine, to energy security and the cost of living, all while dealing with the aftermath of the COVID pandemic. However, as Guterres clearly pointed out yesterday, “many of today’s conflicts are linked to growing climate chaos, and the war in Ukraine has exposed the profound risks of our fossil fuel addiction.” It is therefore important that nations do not let their climate pledges fall by the wayside, at the risk of exacerbating many of our existing problems even further.

The built environment, of course, has a critical role to play in all of this, accounting for 36% of final global energy consumption, 37% of energy related CO2 emissions, and 50% of all extracted materials. However, with a greater understanding of how our buildings and associated energy networks are actually performing and operating throughout their lifetimes, and more careful consideration across all aspects of design, build, retrofit and demolition, we can identify and target areas of energy waste and carbon emissions to reduce our sector’s impact. Beyond this, targeted building energy efficiency measures presents one of the key ways to navigate the current energy crisis, helping government, businesses and citizens make cost savings, while simultaneously maintaining progress towards net-zero and building energy resilience in the face of increasing threats on supply. 

Fortunately, within our industry there already exists a wealth of knowledge, tools and technologies to help address the whole life carbon impact of our buildings and cities, and we have a range of green building and voluntary performance rating schemes, standards and technical guidance to support this (e.g., Design for Performance, NABERS UK, monitoring based commissioning, CIBSE TM54 & TM63, as well as the policy roadmaps which have resulted from the WorldGBC’s #BuildingLife project, to name just a few examples.) However, we require the collective support of our global governments and input from built environment stakeholders across the board to fully exploit the tools already at our disposal and make a real impact.

Last year we joined forces with likeminded industry bodies and stakeholders from across the built environment at the COP26 summit in Glasgow, with a range of on-the-ground activities to place a spotlight on the need for collaboration and acceleration of climate action across our sector. Although IES is not in Sharm El-Sheikh this year, we stand in solidarity with our peers from across the industry in calling our global governments to account once again on meaningful climate action and to support the efforts which are already underway to decarbonise our sector.

It has been estimated that, by 2030, efficient buildings will be an investment opportunity worth $24.7 trillion. However, in spite of this, less than $3 of every $100 spent on new construction is actually invested in efficient buildings. Out of the 186 countries that have submitted Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), 136 countries mention buildings, 53 countries mention building energy efficiency, and 38 specifically call out building energy codes. Most countries do not include full building decarbonisation targets and certain areas such as building materials are under addressed.

Our peers from the #BuildingToCOP Coalition have called on our sector to unite behind a single voice and ambition towards shared goals, and we support their view that, by 2030, 100% of new buildings must be net-zero carbon in operation and embodied carbon must be reduced by at least 40%; and by 2050, all new and existing assets must be net zero across the whole life cycle.

We are proud of the impact that we as an organisation have made to date, having spent 28 years delivering the technology and consultancy services to help create more than 1 million efficient buildings globally and preventing the need for an estimated 40 power stations in the process. However, we know that there is always more than we can do. We continue to play an active role, whether that be the development of new technologies and consultancy offerings, by developing national modelling guidance for net-zero buildings, responding to government consultations, and serving on various task groups to support the development of better net-zero building standards, to ensure that every building of every city in the world can ultimately be decarbonised.

Over the next two weeks, we will be following the proceedings closely, aligning to key days within the COP27 programme and sharing specific insights and solutions from IES that can support the transition to a healthy, low-carbon and resilient built environment. In the meantime, we would encourage you to tune in to the livestream sessions from the BuildingtoCOP Coalition, or, if you have a net-zero project that requires our help, get in touch to find out more on the ways in which we can support.

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