Much was pledged at COP26. Promises were made to end deforestation, reduce methane levels and shift to more sustainable ways of farming. Coal is also set for burn out. Some described the occasion as pure ‘greenwash,’ others felt it marked a step in the right direction.
What is clear is that actions speak louder than words. The hard work must now start in earnest. Delivering the Glasgow Climate Pact will require immense global political leadership. Countries need to stand and deliver on their commitments. So too does industry.
Ian Mulvaney, Partner and Head of Building Consultancy at National Chartered Surveying firm, Bruton Knowles, says stakeholders in the built environment are becoming more demanding. When it comes to sustainability, they are holding businesses to account.
He believes this approach is exactly what is needed. Positive change arising from groundswell within the sector needs to be harnessed. Government incentives to speed up that process will be key. Ian shares his reactions to recent climate change pledges, and discusses the challenges for real estate asset owners.
“COP26 represented a global platform to shine a spotlight on the climate crisis. The eyes of the world were on the UK, as nations looked to their leaders to stimulate meaningful change. What emerged following the two weeks of intense negotiations were some important high-level points, but just not enough detail.
“Property owners across the UK wanted to see the vision translated into practical action with the publication of clear guidance soon thereafter. Such an approach would maintain momentum, and secure collective buy-in to what the country was seeking to achieve.
“The UK’s built environment is undoubtedly world-leading in many ways, but it has yet to demonstrate this properly in the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) sphere. If there is any hope of the 1.5ºC pathway to reaching net zero by 2050 being achieved, the sector’s ambitions must be turbo-charged.
“The Glasgow Pact is fragile and relies on the G7 countries to coordinate global policy, stick to the commitments made, whilst also pressing ahead with bolder and better plans. The UK’s Climate Change Committee (CCC) has already warned Britain is lagging on the target trajectory to reduce greenhouse gases due to the lack of robust policy.
“Rather than wait for guidance to land piece by piece, those operating in the built environment sector must take decisive action. They need to think creatively, because it could be some time before the sustainability incentives - and indeed carbon penalties - come to the fore.
“Boards must put green governance at the heart of their processes, whilst encouraging staff to produce practical ideas for improvement. Good data will play a vital part in this process, enabling a better understanding of the problems faced. Quantifying poor energy performance and the carbon footprint of buildings will lead to more meaningful environmental strategies.
“The retrofit issue remains a real concern. Apart from the logistical and fiscal challenges of temporarily rehousing tenants from their dwellings or offices, it seems clear that without a national scheme, action will only come from property owners with social consciences and sufficiently large bank balances.
“There have been many failed attempts - most recently via the Green Homes Grant - to incentivise energy efficiency improvements. The shortage of adequately qualified people to deliver retrofit activity was a real oversight. So too was the lack of clarity over how this intervention sat within the UK’s overarching plans for decarbonisation.
“Within social housing, the PAS 2035 scheme is pushing up retrofit standards which is encouraging. There are still barriers, such as excessive costs and the patchy supply chain, but local authorities are seeking to overcome this by focusing on the social and market benefits.
“There may also be an opportunity to scale this approach up for the private rental sector, but it would require a significant push, as well as the political and commercial will to deliver it. Older stock is often just put in the ‘too hard to tackle’ box, but greater clarity, policy emphasis and investment would be a start.
“For new builds, there is an easy win, which is the forcing through of building regulations that make the energy efficiency and sustainability requirements ever more stringent. Mandating the transition is a crucial step towards Net Zero, but it is also important for the market to deliver its own solutions in parallel.
“Green finance has a role to play in this space. Government’s new Framework to facilitate more environmentally friendly activity across the wider property sector is welcomed. But to make it meaningful, the addition of grants and tax breaks, in line with the wider strategic vision, would incentivise behaviour change and stimulate action.
“So too would greater intermediary intervention. Property professionals are pivotal in challenging clients on disclosure and steering them towards better environmental compliance, resource use and social impact. Consultancy stewardship is an important aspect of a transparent property management approach.
“COP26 has not yet made any distinct difference to what the built environment industry is already trying to do. Reversing the climate change trend depends entirely on innovative leadership combined with more legislation and policy levers.
“The sector must think more radically about how it can capitalise on green finance and technology to deliver environmental, economic and social transformation. Building the foundations for a greener future will depend entirely on the appetite of constructors and future investors to assess climate change risks.
“Scientists have warned flash floods will become more frequent because of the climate emergency. Builders, investors, and property owners must, as a matter of urgency, determine whether current and future stock can withstand extreme weather or is green enough in its performance.
“Risk is the best way to incentivise, so the industry must lead by example and find that unique selling point which will make development stand out for all the right reasons. Organisations like UK Green Building Council are working hard to guide stakeholders through the muddy floodwaters on the journey to Net Zero.
“By plugging the strategic gaps with key information and guidance, these think-tanks are crucial in advocating for change and inspiring built environment partners to pull together as they strive for a more sustainable future. We all have a role to play in this transformation, and it is no longer acceptable to shift responsibility to generations further down the line.”