The 2022 United Nations Conference of the Parties, more commonly referred to as COP27, was held between November 6 and November 18, 2022, in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. The conference included more than 90 heads of state and an estimated 35,000 representatives, or delegates, from 190 countries. Aimed at encouraging and guiding countries to take effective action against climate change, the next edition of these conferences, COP28, is already scheduled from 30 November to 12 December 2023, in the United Arab Emirates. The CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co, an oil company chief who also oversees renewable energy efforts in the Emirates, was appointed to preside over the negotiations and talks, which led to a wave of criticism from environmental activists.
While the conferences address a larger set of issues, the built environment is recognized as playing a major role in ensuring that sustainability targets are achieved. The Building to COP27, a group of sustainability-focused built environment NGOs and organizations, is working to position the built environment as a critical sector to achieve the needed transition to a resilient and zero emissions future at COP conferences. The group aims to raise awareness of the impact that the building sector can have while pointing out that more drastic measures need to be taken, as most countries do not include full building decarbonization targets, and certain areas, such as building materials are under-addressed.
Read on to discover a summary of the subjects addressed during COP that have an impact on the construction industry.
COP27 restated the importance of reducing carbon emissions across the board, as the window of opportunity for keeping global temperatures below a 1.5°C increase narrows. As the carbon sector is responsible for more than 23% of global GHG emissions and consumes more than 30% of global resources, this subject has important consequences for the building industry. During this year’s conference, the Clean Construction Accelerator was announced, an act that hopes to support the built environment sector in halving emissions by 2030 for all new buildings and infrastructure projects.
A number of private practices have announced their support for this goal. The percentage of construction companies, by revenue, that have joined the Race to Zero has doubled since COP26. Coinciding with the start of COP27, Arup has announced its commitment to undertaking whole lifecycle carbon assessments for all its building projects, new and retrofit, starting next year. Arup estimates that less than 1% of buildings projects are currently evaluated in a way that quantifies the scale and source of carbon emissions generated during their lifespans, a step that is essential if the most effective decarbonization actions are to be identified.
A report by Arup and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development suggests that 50% of the whole-life emissions from buildings come from embodied carbon, the carbon generated from the manufacturing and transportation of building materials and the construction process itself. This aspect is often overlooked by other carbon assessment measurements. Despite the focus on operational CO2 emissions from the building sector, this category registered a peak in 2021, 2% higher than in 2019 and 5% higher than in 2020. The whole lifecycle carbon assessment promised by Arup incorporates both embodied and operational carbon.
Resilient Development for the Global South
One of the key topics at COP27 was the necessity of building climate resilience in the countries in the Global South, a subject underlined by the fact that this was the first Conference of the Parties to be held outside of Europe since the COP22 in Marrakech in 2016. Campaigns were launched to address the lack of access to safe and decent houses for the most vulnerable communities. The Roof Over Our Heads campaign aims to improve the lives of 2 billion climate-vulnerable people living in informal settlements by 2050. The WorldGBC Guide to Climate Resilience and Adaptation in the Built Environment was also launched ahead of COP27 to provide actionable principles for implementing climate resilience and actionable strategies across the built environment value chain.
At an urban level, signatories to the Cities Race to Resilience have more than doubled since 2021, an initiative that strives to ensure that climate resilience goals are treated with the same urgency as the global race to halve emissions by 2030. Similarly, the Summary for Urban Policy Makers was launched, with actionable policy guides for city and urban policymakers to decarbonize and build the resilience of urban environments.
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