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A COP out in Dubai, or a meaningful conference?

Reflections

With 198 delegate countries from across the globe in attendance, the COP28 conference was simultaneously hailed as a ‘true victory’ by the COP President and ‘vague’ and ‘lukewarm’ by various climate groups and smaller island nations most impacted by climate change.

The controversial choice of the United Arab Emirates as the host nation ignited questions about the event’s transparency and commitment to climate action, and the host nation’s fossil fuel interests. Nevertheless, the willingness of such countries whose economies are so intrinsically tied to fossil fuels to agree to a landmark deal to ‘transition away’ from fossil fuels – something which even 12 months ago would have been unthinkable – demonstrates a clear direction of travel.

We’ve looked beyond COP’s controversies to reflect on what the outcomes could mean for the built environment.

Among the themes discussed, there were three takeaways the industry should be aware of:

  • Transitioning away from fossil fuels and the move to net zero by 2050
  • Tripling renewable energy capacity
  • The built environment’s vital role

Transitioning away from fossil fuels

With representatives from over 100 nations hoping for a complete ‘phase-out’, the compromise to “transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems” stirred criticism, with groups deeming the draft agreement fell short of the task at hand.

Despite this, forward-thinking organisations in the built environment are already ahead of the curve, working towards an ambition to ‘phase out’. For example, this year saw the opening of Inspired Villages’ Millfield Green, the UK’s first net carbon zero regulated energy retirement village.

Tripling renewable capacity

COP28’s commitment to triple global renewable energy capacity by 2030 garnered mass attention. Industry leaders, including Equinor’s Anders Opedal, deem it a realistic, yet complex endeavour.

In the UK, solar and wind developments will require significant land, connections and infrastructure brought forward, with the built environment playing a key role when it comes to meeting the ambitions.

Despite the challenges, there is a huge opportunity ahead – and done properly -renewable projects can significantly mitigate both the ecological and climate crises. For example, we recently worked with JBM Solar on plans to deliver a new solar farm in Stroud, which will increase the district council’s clean energy generating capacity by 50%. The project will generate energy for 15,000 homes, whilst delivering a significant 18.5% biodiversity net gain.

The built environment’s crucial role

The built environment – responsible for 40% of energy-related carbon emissions – emerged as a focal point. Despite operational emissions growing yearly from 2015 to 2021, the Paris Agreement called for a halving by 2030. Policymakers acknowledged the crucial role the sector can play as a solution, but the urgency to transition to an energy-efficient future is clear. 

Climate conferences and policy aside, many in the industry are already taking a proactive approach in response to the climate crisis. For example, Thakeham is aiming to reduce its emissions by 50% by 2030, with a target for its private homes to be net zero carbon by 2025.

With the UK having the oldest and draughtiest housing stock in Europe, upgrading and retrofitting older properties and delivering sustainable new housing will be another major factor in reaching the 2050 target.

Inevitably however, the question now turns domestically to the UK government and how we can implement the environmental measures agreed at COP28 in the wake of political divisiveness surrounding climate action.

The answers lie not only in policy decisions but also in the collective actions of industry professionals, and everyone invested in shaping the built environment. As we reflect on COP28, it becomes apparent the sector can and should be a catalyst for positive change, leading the charge.

Sustainable urban planning, resilient building practices and nature-positive initiatives should be at the forefront of the industry’s agenda. The time for action is now, and the UK has the opportunity to lead the way in building a sustainable future.

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