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A call to action for built environment firms

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The Built Environment

The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) has recently responded to the Intergovernmental Panel on the Climate Change report, published in October 2018. The IPCC is a body that was set up 30 years ago to deliver a clear scientific view for governments on the causes, impacts and solutions to rising temperatures.  91 authors from 40 different countries worked on the report, which carries over 6,000 cited references and contains 42,001 expert and government review comments. Julie Hirigoyen, Chief Executive of the UKGBC is urging all firms working on built environment projects to take action in response to the report’s comments on limiting global warming to 1.5°C to stem catastrophic climate change.  Only by all working together to effect change at speed and at scale will we stand any chance of rising to the challenge outlined today” she said. Hirigoyen’s call was backed by RIBA President Ben Derbyshire who also said that co-ordinated action by architects was ‘urgently’ required. The report has sent out a warning that the world is badly off track, and is moving in the wrong direction, towards 3°C.  The challenge to keep temperatures stabilised at 1.5°C will be extremely difficult if not impossible at this stage. The IPCC Working Group III co-chair Jim Skea said: “Limiting warming to 1.5°C is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes.”  The report has called for ‘rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society’, such as energy, land use, cities and industry. Furthermore, individuals were pressed to change their material lifestyle and dietary choices, as well as insulating homes. Hirigoyen cited the report as a “wake-up call for governments and businesses across the globe.” She said: “There is no doubt that business leaders need to make bold decisions today to transition to a low/no carbon economy that can sustain future generations. The construction and property industry in the UK is an economic juggernaut, and our buildings account for approximately 30 per cent of carbon emissions. It is also the industry with the most cost-effective means of reducing carbon emissions so it will be a vital catalyst for change in the wider economy.” A call to action content - wind power - city scape  When the Paris agreement was signed in December 2015, the long term goal of the pact by countries across the globe was to maintain temperatures ‘well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5°C’. Buildings are accountable for nearly a third of carbon emissions which must decrease to realise the objectives set out at the Paris Agreement and the IPCC report. Architects and the built-environment sector have the chance to support the UN Sustainable Development Goals by designing sustainable buildings and retrofitting existing stock that is fit for the future. More often than not, governments seek to make changes to the IPCC report before it is published and the scientists involved try to ensure their facts are not watered down. Richard Twinn, senior policy advisor at the UK Green Building Council has urged architects to not wait for the government, but to take action, in terms of zero carbon energy in operation, zero carbon embodied energy and climate adaptation.  ‘Architects are going to be pretty vital in responding to the IPCC report because once you have designed a building, you have really determined how future proof it is for life. We only have the next 12 years or so to limit carbon emissions so we have to take the initiative. Architects need to think through the designs for buildings for 2050 as soon as possible, because limiting temperatures to 1.5°C requires a reduction of emissions from buildings by 80-90% by 2050 at a global level. In the UK, as a more advanced economy, that really means taking a lead and achieving zero carbon.’ The report also states that the entire building and construction supply chain must decarbonise by 2050. This includes emissions associated with the production, transportation and disposal of building materials and the construction process itself. To summarise, as per the IPCC report, the UKGBC makes it clear that built environment firms must speed up their efforts ahead of the government. Constructing greener buildings with energy efficient solutions like secondary glazing will mitigate the impacts of climate change in a bid to lead the way towards a fully decarbonised building sector by 2050.