Beyond COP26 what happens now?

November 11, 2021

Government must comprehend that market forces alone cannot decarbonise our economy with the necessary urgency, nor deliver the systemic change for it to happen. We need leadership from governance, to help shift our current exploitative consumerist culture; vision, to show how an alternative, regenerative and equitable economy would improve quality of life; and a roadmap that sets out how we will get there.

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We have witnessed tremendous energy and enthusiasm leading up to COP26 – but what do we do next?

In relation to the built environment, we have witnessed a uniquely uncompetitive and generous attitude amongst my industry peers who are developing tools, guidance and policy recommendations to address the impact our industry has on the climate challenge. This work has been undertaken collaboratively, and made open source, by climate-concerned volunteers who understand the need to act now in order to mitigate greater challenges to come. We do not believe this responsibility should be left to individuals and the private sector. We hope that the demands that have been made by industry in the lead up to COP 26 will be considered by government.

 

This sentiment relates to a broader issue: the difficulty of engaging the public in climate activism and to participate in democratic decision making; the issue is one of not feeling heard.

 

Gascoigne Park, visual: Studio Monolot

We hope that governing and economic structures will begin to recognise the consequences of short-termism and begin planning for our future generations and legacy. Industry innovators have shown that it is possible to create net positive places that not only mitigate climate breakdown, but also improve planetary wellbeing. These innovators are just that, because they have had to challenge systemic constraints in the way we plan for, procure, design, fund and construct buildings.

 

If we are to go beyond our ‘net zero’ goals and restore the damage already done to the natural world, we need these kinds of pioneering projects to become the mainstream. This will only happen if our government gives support and raises the standards on what and how we build today, because in general, cost and time dictates that we don’t build above the baseline if we don’t have to.

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We need transparent commitments to be set by both government and private sector, with targets against which progress can be measured and accountability held, and recognition that all industries must rise to the challenge.

Government must also understand that many of our challenges, low carbon heating for example, are a design problem, and that design professionals must be engaged accordingly. Within the UK government’s recently published Heat and building strategy, the word ‘engineer’ features just 25 times, and ‘architecture/ architect’, not once. There is clear messaging in the media that we need to switch to low carbon heat pumps, but little understanding that we should first lower our energy demand through a more complex ‘fabric first’ approach. We need more expert voices to be heard and a better-informed public.  Improved lines of communication with the industry are needed in order to develop evidence-based policy, for example, learning from data collected through Post Occupancy Evaluation to close identified performance gaps.

 

Some key policy points we would like to see emerge:

  • VAT reform, to incentivise retrofit of buildings over new build,
  • Taxation on the use of resources, including the implementation of a carbon tax, to incentivise a circular economy,
  • Building regulations that regulate wellbeing metrics, indoor health and energy in-use,
  • Whole life carbon assessment and Post Occupancy Evaluation to be made mandatory at planning.

There is a great mismatch between the funding offered by the government and the scale of what is needed. We need new jobs and upskilling of the workforce in order to deliver higher standards, and a national programme for decarbonising, that includes grants to homeowners, low carbon material innovators, and more funding to local authorities who can identify publicly owned assets for retrofit and support local initiatives.

 

We are optimistic that there has been so much noise in the lead up to COP, and this is thanks to the media dedicating air-time and column-space to issues surrounding the event. The hype feels reminiscent of when London hosted the Olympics in 2012. Much like how Team GB inspired the nation to get cycling, we hope that the attention given to this COP will inspire a new wave of activism, and that the media will help continue a public discourse and continue putting pressure on the government to address the climate and ecological crises with urgency.

Contact Person

Anna Lisa McSweeney

Anna Lisa McSweeney

Architect

London

annalisa.mcsweeney@white.se

+44 750 751 55 06

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