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#BuildingToCOP26 – built environment unites like never before

The built environment will play a key role at the upcoming UN climate change conference, COP26, which is being held across two weeks in Glasgow from late October.

Following the sobering message from the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report, which found that climate change is now widespread, rapid and intensifying, a coalition of companies from the built environment are trying to do their bit to reverse this worrying trend.

Led by C40, the Global Alliance for Building and Construction (GlobalABC), The Resilience Shift, World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) have announced #BuildingToCOP26 — a partnership designed to promote radical collaboration for climate action ahead of the Cities, Regions and Built Environment Day at COP26.


The #BuildingToCOP26 Coalition — a group of business and government networks focused on sustainability in the built environment — are collaborating for the first time to spotlight the built environment’s potential in accelerating climate action.

Working with the UN High Level Climate Champions, the COP26 Presidency and the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Coalition’s efforts are set to culminate on November 11 at the COP26 Cities, Regions and Built Environment Day. This day is aimed at rallying awareness, action and collaboration among all stakeholders in the built environment.

Why do cities, regions and the built environment matter?

It’s been well-documented in recent years just how much of a role the built environment plays when it comes to carbon emissions throughout the world.

Buildings are responsible for nearly 40% of global energy-related carbon emissions and 50% of all extracted materials. It’s anticipated that, by 2050, 1.6 billion urban dwellers will be regularly exposed to extremely high temperatures while more than 800 million people living in more than 570 cities will be vulnerable to sea level rises and coastal flooding.

Additionally, by 2050, the world’s building stock is expected to double and nearly 70% of the global population is predicted to live in urban areas. Ten years later, global material use is expected to more than double and a third of this increase ‘is attributable to materials used in the building and construction system’.

The Coalition says the built environment’s demand on natural resources accelerates climate change, and inefficient, unhealthy buildings negatively impact human health and wellbeing.

However, efficient buildings are one of the biggest investment opportunities, said to be worth an estimated $24.7 trillion by 2030.

In spite of this, under $3 of every $100 spent on new construction goes to 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.

The Coalition has called for drastic action to limit warming to no more than 1.5℃, as set out in the Paris Agreement. It has urged emissions from building projects globally to be halved by 2030, and to reach net-zero life-cycle emissions for all buildings by no later than 2050.

To meet these decarbonisation targets and establish the built environment as a major helping hand in solving the climate crisis, the Coalition says it is promoting radical collaboration across the built environment system ‘and spotlighting frontrunner action, solutions and policy pathways across business, cities and governments’.

The Coalition aims to achieve three specific outcomes for COP26 and beyond. They are set out below:

1. The system’s stakeholders unite behind a single voice and ambition towards shared goals: By 2030, the built environment should halve its emissions, whereby 100% of new buildings must be net zero carbon in operation, with widespread energy efficiency retrofit of existing assets well underway, and embodied carbon must be reduced by at least 40%, with leading projects achieving at least 50% reductions in embodied carbon.

By 2050, at the latest, all new and existing assets must be net zero across the whole life cycle, including operational and embodied emissions. (UNFCCC Human Settlements Pathway). In parallel to decarbonisation targets, building resilience into the transformation of the built environment is critical to support urban populations and vulnerable communities in the face of future climate impacts. (UNFCCC Resilience Pathway).

2. All countries are encouraged to include full building sector decarbonisation targets, concrete policies and measures, and related implementation mechanisms in their NDCs. GlobalABC is working with its country members and beyond on a country commitment ‘Buildings as Critical Climate Solution (BCCS)’ that will advance building sector measures at the national level, creating the appropriate enabling environment towards a zero-emission, efficient and resilient buildings and construction system. Learn more about how countries can incorporate buildings action into their NDCs and where the buildings and construction system is in supporting the ambitions of the Paris Agreement.

3. 1,000 cities and at least 20% of the largest built environment businesses by revenue are committed to the UN’s Race to Zero. Businesses and sub-national governments are urged to join the Race to Zero and the Race to Resilience. The Race to Zero’s goal by COP26 is to have 20% of the built environment system by revenue to join the Race to Zero. This will create a ‘breakthrough point’ to help mainstream climate action in the system.

Cities are urged to join the Cities Race to Zero, as major policy enablers and owners of real estate who can go further, faster.

“We can’t win the Race to Zero without winning the Race to Resilience as well. Climate breakdown and the pandemic multiply inequalities — social, environmental and economic gaps are widening across nations and across the Global North and South,” Nigel Topping, UN High Level Climate Champions for COP26, argued.

“By 2030, we must catalyse action by non-state actors that builds the resilience of four billion people from groups and communities who are vulnerable to climate risks.”

The Coalition argues that, with focus and collaboration, the goal of halving the building sector's emissions by 2030 is possible. It is inviting stakeholders across the built environment to join them to win the race to a zero-emissions and resilient built environment, regions and cities. You can find out more at www.BuildingToCOP.org.

*This is the first part of an ongoing series on PIT - in the lead-up to COP26 - focusing on green property, green developers and the measures being taken by the built environment to help tackle the climate crisis. Keep an eye out for the green property logo for further stories.


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