Considering climate change in the built environment 

A changing environment
Climate change dominated the press in 2015, culminating in The Paris Climate Agreement in December.  Making sense of the wide range of global, national and local policies and initiatives can be daunting. The need to minimise emissions from the construction sector, and to develop resilience to climate change is a hot topic in building and infrastructure planning, design and construction.  Construction is a resource heavy sector with high impact on our natural environment and minimising environmental impacts is an important part of project planning and management.

Increased development and human activity have led to added changes in our environment and climate change, which is widely accepted by science and engineering communities. Changing environmental factors need to be considered in two aspects; How do we assess increasing risks from natural hazards to adapt and protect our built environment (climate change adaptation), and how do we minimise the impact of construction activity on the environment (climate change mitigation).

Recent developments
In December 2015 all eyes turned to Paris, as world leaders met to agree a historic global climate deal aiming to stop and reduce emissions on a global level and to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting warming to well below 2°C, with a long-term goal of net zero emissions for this century. The scale and breadth of this agreement was unique as 195 countries agreeing to adopt the so-called Paris agreement at the COP21 (the 21st meeting of the conference of the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change).

Although it might seem that it’s been quiet since December, the reality is that it will take a few years for all the changes and actions to begin to take effect and the Paris agreement is due to enter into force in 2020.  

However there is no time be complacent, as a recent report from the Green Construction Board’s on progress in the Low Carbon Route map for the Built Environment, has indicated that the construction sector is not on track to meet its self-imposed carbon reduction targets.

Action in the built environment 

So what’s happening in the construction sector to address the slow in progress and minimise carbon emissions? 

There are a number of industry initiatives and working groups tackling this complex issue. Most major contractors, clients and consultants in the built environment have a sustainability policy or strategy in place, although can have the daunting task of considering an incredibly broad range of sustainability priorities. Carbon reduction will often be considered under environmental strategies, mitigating damage, by way of energy efficiency schemes or sometimes under very specific strategies which consider carbon management in detail. 

These strategies can include everyday business energy savings, material selection, design options and construction processes. Sharing lessons and experiences in developing and implementing strategies is paramount to a sector-wide change and encouraging wider uptake of progressive carbon reduction policies.

A greater emphasis also needs to be placed on the role of innovation or ‘changing practices’ in the sector as way to push progress in the industry, while providing opportunities to reduce costs and improve sustainability. The role of innovation is key for meeting carbon targets as it’s clear that we can’t meet targets without significant changes in ‘business as usual’ working practices. 

Carbon reduction and climate change mitigation affect all aspects of business, and addressing this is much bigger than any single organisation. Collaboration through supply chains and across organisations is required to deliver the scale of carbon reduction necessary for actual impact, and meeting targets by 2050.

Climate Change and the built environment – are we doing enough?
Join us on 17 March to hear leading experts from the construction and sustainability sectors discuss whether the construction industry is doing enough to address the challenges of global climate change, and provide an overview of the COP21 agreement and what it means for the UK built environment sector.

Book a place for this event.