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All eyes are on COP26 - but the real test of our Net Zero commitment is yet to come

All eyes are on COP26 - but the real test of our Net Zero commitment is yet to come

A modern eco-home in Suffolk

Dr Kat Ibbotson

Dr Kat Ibbotson | WSP

3 min read Partner content

Once the dust has settled on COP26, and commitments to fight climate change are reaffirmed, it's imperative that the public and private sectors rally together.

A great deal rests on COP26, a central hope being that states around the world will make bold commitments to tightening their Nationally Determined Contributions to significantly reduce carbon emissions and collectively achieve global net zero by the mid-century.

From the UK’s perspective the expectation to deliver is high, both as COP26 host and in terms of our own national ambitions around climate action and growing the green economy. The UK Government has now published its long-awaited Net Zero and Heat & Buildings strategies which, amongst other measures, highlight the key importance of decarbonising energy, transport and infrastructure.

As an example of the scale of the task, the UKGBC states the built environment currently contributes about 40% of the UK’s total carbon footprint, and heat from buildings contributes over 20% of the UK’s annual emissions, making swift action crucial.

Turning desire into meaningful action here is an immense task which requires focus and shared ownership of the solutions. Much innovative work is already being done to remove carbon from designs, processes and materials, but it’s accurate measurement of data that will ultimately allow us to holistically assess the whole life carbon of buildings and other structures. This in turn will inform better infrastructure design and construction in the future.

Through employing a consistent approach to benchmarking, whole life carbon measurement, evaluation and reporting of actual carbon data, we can compare across different sectors and work effectively towards a decarbonised built environment. This will also give confidence to developers and investors on the green viability of a scheme from the outset if they can see its low carbon potential.

Turning desire into meaningful action here is an immense task which requires focus and shared ownership of the solutions

A key step on this journey is having the relevant skills and expertise in place. Many column inches have been given to the green jobs needed to help deliver net zero but we must be more realistic and specific with the ask.

Not only do we need engineers to design carbon-free solutions in the built environment, we also need to upskill thousands of workers in the professional and financial services sectors to accurately assess the carbon impact of a project or investment and process that data to inform future green decision-making. By doing this we will get to the root cause of our carbon impacts and address it at source, rather than reacting or fixing in a piece-meal fashion.

A further consideration here is ensuring a cross-sector understanding of why this transition to consistent measurement is so fundamental to achieving success. This hurdle will only be overcome by providing convincing evidence. It can be done though, as has been demonstrated by the Environment Agency’s Monitoring Certification Monitoring Certification Scheme  which covers emissions to air, land and water.

As has been clear in the dialogue ahead of COP26, firm action on climate change is now urgently required. States will gather and hopefully make meaningful national pledges in November, but once delegates have departed Glasgow, action to deliver pledges must begin or continue in earnest by all.

The real test of the Government’s vision within its Net Zero Strategy is yet to come. It must provide structured direction backing up the legislation in this space and ensure all stakeholders understand what is required from them in the coming years to cut carbon emissions.

In reality, Government, Industry, businesses, communities and homeowners all have a role to play in creating a more sustainable future. The scale of the challenge is huge but the implications of inaction will be much greater and long-lasting.

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