Net zero since COP26

Four goals emerged from COP26: ensure global Net zero by 2050 and keep the 1.5 degree within reach; protect natural communities and habitats; mobilising funds; and collaborate between governments, businesses, and civil society.

Illustration: Uppsala Business Park, Mandaworks for Corem

As part of the Net Zero programme, the NLA brought together speakers from the public and private sector to discuss the impact of COP 26 one year on, chaired by Tor Burrow, Executive Director of Sustainability & Innovation, Grosvenor Property UK.

Sean Lockie, Associate Director at Arup, gave an overview of COP- from the Paris Agreement adopted at COP 21 (2015), to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, to the tightened goals agreed at COP 26 in Glasgow to ‘keep 1.5 alive’, and the focus for COP27 in Egypt (Nov 2022); to show how the goals can ‘work for all’. Sean described the difficulty in translating the high-level discussions at COP into tangible language at a community level and clarity for industry to invest. He presented Arup’s decarbonisation action plan for Waltham Forest developed using their three-R’s approach: Reduce, Restore, Remove, and local community engagement.

COP 26 had great rhetorical power, focusing national conversations onto issues of sustainability, and inciting pledges, from Local Authorities and across the construction industry. The UK Government made commitments including the Net Zero Strategy: to Build Back Greener with policies to decarbonise all sectors of the economy by 2050, and the Heat and Buildings Strategy, which takes a market-based approach to reducing emissions e.g. by scaling up supply chains for low-carbon heating systems to become mainstream.

It is important that Government takes a more collectivised approach to investment and not at the unit level, to ensure that public spending is distributed proportionately.

Grants on heat pumps, for example, benefit homeowners but offers little to tenants who may not have the rights or means to modify their homes. As such, lower-income groups in poorer quality housing have greater vulnerability to extreme weather events that result from climate change. The injustice comes as those who have contributed less to global emissions pay proportionately more to fund policy that benefits them least.

Zahrah Ali, Senior Policy and Programmes officer, Climate Mitigation Team at the GLA, spoke to Climate Justice as part of her presentation, which also described the Mayor’s ambitious target for London to net zero by 2030 through an ‘Accelerated Green’ pathway and Green Finance programme. Zahrah mentioned that London is one of thirteen C40 cities participating in a climate budget pilot.


This addresses two necessary strategies for practical implementation of our national net zero goals:

  1. A decarbonisation route map to include a national retrofit strategy, which could deliver 500,000 new jobs, boost economy, and save 1.4 billion of NHS, money which can be reinvested to lead by example in the decarbonisation of public building – and carbon budgets for different building sectors and regions, incentivised through regulation and planning.
  2. Funding for pilot schemes, to incentivise projects that test out and inform policy, to encourage leadership and experimentation from the industry, and allow the top-down and bottom-up to find and learn from each other.

As an example, the EU commission is exploring Positive Energy Districts (PEDs) as a policy area and has been exploring the notion of putting standards on new development at district scale and not only for individual buildings, in response to the EU’s Energy Performance Directive. The EU’s Strategic Energy Technology (SET) Plan sets out a framework and the EU is providing innovation funding to deliver the goal of 100 PEDs across Europe.

White Arkitekter has participated in one of four international PED pilot actions that were supported by the EU, via the JPI Urban Europe programme. White developed a Positive Energy Planning Process and led the initiative to collaborate with Uppsala Municipality, developer COREM, and other key stakeholders, to develop a positive-energy roadmap for the Uppsala Business Park district; approaching energy as an urban development issue, with the aim to transform the whole district from being a net consumer to net producer of energy.

Working on pilot schemes is a valuable experience for industry and provides evidence through case studies. Where new policy will potentially affect costs and financial modelling, knowledge of what’s coming can help business adjust in time for when the policy comes in to play.

Built environment professionals have a role to play in the journey to net zero, and Judith Sykes, Senior Director, Useful Simple Trust spoke of how collaborations forged by professional networks such as those under Built Environment declares are driving change, for example through writing guidance that is informing policy. The industry proposed Part Z addition to building regulation is a proof of concept of how embodied carbon could be regulated in the UK.

Closer collaboration is needed with supply chains to help overcome difficulties with procurement when bringing aspirational design principles into practice, for example in a commitment to only using materials that benefit public and environmental health. We must also consider how the built environment is financed to encourage investments on longer terms to support a circular economy with a focus on future value. The industry can facilitate the retrofit agenda by upskilling ourselves to be ready with the new competences and roles required scaling-up of a nationwide retrofit strategy.

The move towards net zero can deliver a more just society at large, through fair carbon reduction targets, more inclusive policy design processes and distributed investment for greater collective resilience. This will only be successful if supported by comprehensive strategies from central government that prioritises the restoration of nature and moves towards an economy where wellbeing is the governing metric of success.

First published in New London Architecture.

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Anna Lisa McSweeney

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