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In the pursuit of net zero

Blog by Rory Murphy, Commercial Director, VINCI Facilities

Whether you place your trust in Government, the investment fraternity, well respected scientists or passionate activists, the unarguable fact is that we now have only 10 years available to us to save the planet.

The science makes very clear that without significant change in the next 120 months by all of us that consider earth our ‘home’ we will reach a tipping point in our climate beyond which climate change will be both irreversible and catastrophic.

Glasgow hosts the COP26 conference in November and this event will put the UK in the global spotlight for demonstrating positive environmental action. To ensure success, those of us working in the built environment need to play a leading role in supporting both the UK and countries around the globe in delivering on their commitments to reach net zero emissions as soon as possible. The way we design, construct and operate the built environment will have a fundamental impact over the next ten years in helping our communities and local economies adapt to climate change.

We must lead a revolution in the sectors within which we work and break our dependance on polluting energy systems and seize the opportunity that exists from the falling costs of renewables and advances in energy storage. At a structural level we must contribute to and support the acceleration to zero carbon transport and the development of green infrastructure. To make all this possible, we must better understand and support the green transformation of the financial systems so that we can champion clean and resilient investments.

The transition to Net Zero will, however, involve deep structural changes that will affect people, communities and economic sectors in very different ways. The political acceptability of the transition and by implication public support, will depend on those changes being seen to be science based, fair and demonstrably impactful.

Across the Built environment though, we have a mountain to climb. In the 2020 progress report to the UK committee on climate change it was made clear that whilst some fantastic progress on emissions since 2008 had been achieved within the UK, the significant progress had been almost all been made in the power generation sector. The report further demonstrated how other major sectors were lagging way behind, one of the most disappointing areas being building.

The report concludes that “Buildings have seen limited progress in the last decade”. Whilst emissions relating to the building sector have reduced by 13 per cent, the policy driven successes of the first half of the decade have not been maintained. In the housing sector, the challenge to provide low carbon heating remains and the necessity to shift existing households away from natural gas to greener solutions is critical. The scrapping of the 2016 Zero Carbon Homes standard now means that we have more new homes requiring zero carbon retrofit than when the Climate Change Act was passed. Energy efficiency in existing building stock across all sectors and the challenge of widespread renovation and retrofit remains largely unaddressed with various Government incentives schemes not generating the demand anticipated.

Last month the UK Government committed to reducing emissions by 78 per cent by 2035, a commitment that will set the tone for COP26 and lead to similar stretching targets for many of the worlds most polluting countries. 2035, however, is only 14 years away, in the context of the built environment or the investment lifecycle of an asset this is no time at all.

Achieving these targets will require wide-ranging policies that are credible, consistent around the globe, long-term and of a robustness to transform behaviours and how our communities and wider society relate to energy, food, transport, waste and the use of finite resources. The challenges to how we all live and work will be significant.

The future of our planet is fragile, precious and our responsibility to maintain for future generations so there can be no greater purpose for all of us that work in the built environment than to contribute all we can to protect the globe.

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