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‘Shocking’ climate report ‘massive wake-up call’ for property

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Karl Tomusk

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest assessment report is a “massive wake-up call” and property must lead in delivering urgent change, the UK Green Building Council has said.

Responding to the sixth IPCC assessment report, which again sounded alarm bells over unprecedented rates of human-induced climate change, UKGBC called on built environment businesses to lead the charge on tackling the crisis.

Julie Hirigoyen, CEO of UKGBC, said: “This report should be a massive wake-up call for governments across the globe.

“It reinforces the growing evidence base that too many commitments are being missed, and that current pledges must be scaled up and matched with plans to deliver urgent change.”

Hirigoyen said that with 21-22% of the UK’s total carbon emissions directly controlled by the built environment, the sector must act.

She said: “Tackling the challenge will be tough, but it also represents a huge opportunity to deliver valuable green jobs and better, healthier places. Built environment businesses can, and must, lead the charge.”

What the report says

The latest IPCC report combines the latest scientific understanding of climate and climate change. The mammoth 3,949 page document goes into granular detail, although the main findings are available in a more digestible 41-page summary.

Some of the key findings include:

  • The global rise in temperature is truly unprecedented. The planet has warmed faster since 1970 than in any other 50-year period in at least 2,000 years. Temperatures in the last decade are higher than in any other “warm period” in 125,000 years.
  • It is “virtually certain” that hot extreme weather has become more frequent and intense across every inhabited region since the 1950s, while cold extremes have become less frequent and severe.
  • The problem is urgent. Global warming of 1.5º-2ºC will be exceeded this century “unless deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in coming decades”.
  • Why this matters: Every 0.5ºC causes “clearly discernible increases” in the intensity and frequency of hot extreme weather, including heatwaves, heavy rain and drought.
  • Carbon sinks – areas that remove carbon from the atmosphere – become less effective as more carbon builds up in the atmosphere.
  • Many of these changes are irreversible – at least for hundreds to thousands of years. These include warming global ocean temperature, ice sheet loss and rising sea levels.
  • There is some hope: if the world can reach and sustain net-negative carbon emissions, we could see a gradual reversal in surface temperature increases. However, the report adds: “… other climate changes would continue in their current direction for decades to millennia. For instance, it would take several centuries to millennia for global mean sea level to reverse course under large net negative CO2

Call for clarity

Hirigoyen continued: “As COP hosts, the UK Government must show clear leadership and embed ambitious climate action across all its flagship policies, from planning reform and tougher building regulations to home retrofit incentives and ‘levelling-up’.

“Delays to key initiatives, such as the Heat and Buildings strategy, have led to considerable uncertainty in the industry. The sooner the direction of travel is made clear, the quicker the costs of new technologies will come down, which is vital for consumers.”

Melanie Leech, CEO of the British Property Federation, echoed those thoughts, saying: “The property sector is committed to working with the government in the UK’s fight against climate change, but the government must provide the right regulatory framework with a credible roadmap to net zero carbon.”

The immediate priority, she said, should be for the Chancellor to zero rate VAT for residential retrofit, repairs and maintenance to support energy efficiency improvements in homes.

While new minimum energy efficiency standards up to 2030 are important, Leech added that the government must give long-term guidance to match the industry’s long-term investment decisions.

“The government must provide a regulatory roadmap beyond the 2030s and go far beyond their interventions to support property owners’ investment into our towns and city centres,” she said.

Role of collaboration

Calling the IPCC report a “shocking reminder” of the urgent action needed, David Fuller-Watts, managing director at Mallcomm, said that the climate crisis could be a catalyst that brings landlords and tenants closer together.

He said: “Building design is evolving rapidly and there will be a huge drive to retrofit older buildings, but what is not yet clear is how we can best track and manage the day-to-day performance of buildings through their life cycle.

“The property sector cannot do this alone and there is a need for closer collaboration between landlords and tenants to understand how a building is being occupied and utilised and how this impacts energy consumption. This is where proptech that enables real-time landlord-tenant collaboration has a key role to play.”

Fuller-Watts said that while Mallcomm was initially used to drive efficiencies in day-to-day operations at shopping centres, over time the primary use has shifted to landlords tracking the environmental performance of their buildings.

Knight Frank’s head of global capital markets research Anthony Duggan said: “The property industry is already waking up to the need to prioritise ESG and this report must be seen as the vital turning point that ensures we work together to guarantee real adaptation and resilience.

“It is only through ambitious ingenuity and collaboration that we can ensure the future of our planet.”

Barry Jessup, CEO of developer First Base, added that collaboration needs to involve more than just those in property: “We must grasp this opportunity to take giant strides so we can make significant contributions to many of the economic, environmental and social issues that we are facing.

“The real estate industry cannot do this on its own – we will need to reach out and collaborate with academia, researchers and innovators to enact real change to create a better world.”

Property at COP26

UKGBC is leading the Built Environment Virtual Pavilion at COP26, curated with more than 40 partners within the industry to give the built environment a “strong voice” at the conference in Glasgow in November.

The Pavilion will feature an exhibition to tell the story of sustainability within property, focused on climate mitigation, climate adaptation natural resource use and nature and biodiversity.

An installation will also be included as an “inspirational and artistic centrepiece” for the Pavilion.

An open call for submissions for both closed in early August, with judging now underway and a final selection announced near the end of the month.

Alongside the exhibition and installation, UKGBC is planning a series of events at the Pavilion.

More on the Built Environment Virtual Pavilion at COP26

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