By Tomás Neeson
What the report tells us
The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report (SR15) recently released states that at the current level of governmental commitments, the world is on course for a disastrous 3°C of warming. The biggest revelation though from this recent report, is that just half a degree increase will have a radical impact, and therefore we should all be working to a 1.5°C rather than a 2°C scenario, which was what was agreed at COP21 in Paris.
To achieve the 1.5°C scenario, we must reduce our net carbon emissions to zero by 2050. This means huge changes to the way we live, the way we get around, how we generate electricity, how we arrange our cities, to what we wear and what we eat. We are currently living well beyond the world’s means, and the price tag for mitigating against it is rising every day.
To put this into some perspective, the world is already over 1°C warmer than pre-industrial levels. This year alone we have seen devastating hurricanes in the US, record heat waves in Europe, the barrier reef in Australia is being rapidly bleached and the advent of the super typhoons in South East Asia. The report makes very clear that climate change is already happening and has subsequently upgraded its risk warning.
The difference between 1.5°C and 2°C scenarios is hard to understand, the SR15 report provides some examples that just 0.5°C will make:
- Sea level rise will displace 10 million more people by 2,100 (with the half degree bringing 10cm additional pressure on coastlines)
- Ecosystems (including insects, crops and vertebrates), are twice as likely to lose half their habitat
- Corals would be 99% lost (instead of 70%)
This report will be presented to Governments at the UN Climate Conference in Poland at the end of this year, but there is much to be done when you have countries like the UK investing in fracking instead of renewables and Australia opening new coal mines.
Impact to the built environment and infrastructure
First and foremost, we must continue the drive to eliminating greenhouse gas emissions associated with the construction,operation, maintenance and end of life of built assets – which currently sits at over 39% of all carbon emissions emitted globally.This is something we have the skills, knowledge and technology available now to solve. Developers should be asking for zero carbon solutions and designers have the responsibility to provide them, even if their client isn’t asking for it.
This is much easier for new build developments, the area of major concern really is the existing stock of poorly performing buildings, which need significant upgrades if we are to achieve the net zero ambition by 2050. In Australia, the National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) is mandatory for all commercial buildings over 1,000 m², this annual review monitors the building performance in use, allowing investors, owners, operators and tenants to understand their actual and relative carbon footprint, and then make changes where necessary. We are starting to see this style of performance review enter the UK market, with 21 Moorfields being developed by Landsec for Deutsche Bank being a pilot scheme for the new UK equivalent scheme, the Better Building partnership’s Design for Performance.
As well as reducing our contribution to exacerbating anthropogenic climate change, we will also have to deal with the long-term impacts of a changing climate which we have already locked in. Sustainability assessment methods such as BREEAM and Green Star have credits associated with encouraging measures to be taken to mitigate the impact of extreme weather conditions for the design life of the asset, including risks associated with structural stability and robustness, material durability and the impact on business continuity. However, one of the biggest gaps in knowledge currently is how buildings and infrastructure will react to the different scenarios projected by the IPCC – and which one should be used.
How Cundall is doing their part, and hopefully helping others to follow suit
Just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 with 25, mainly coal, oil and gas companies, responsible for over half. So, although governments are vital to achieving the 1.5°C scenario, we recognise the role all businesses must play to ensure we are decoupling economic growth from emissions. We can still grow but need to emit less.
While we are not a major emitter, we work on many projects where we can influence greenhouse gas emissions, and to play our part we need to demonstrate leadership. Some of our recent achievements include:
- A 39% reduction in energy intensity since our 2012 baseline year
- Targeting carbon neutral by 2020, and climate positive by 2025
- Using science-based targets to drive down energy demand in our offices
- Providing embodied carbon assessments on all our projects by 2025 (even if the client doesn’t ask for it)
- Conducting research into climate change adaptation – particularly looking at physical risk
- Founding Partner of the WGBC Net Zero Carbon Buildings commitment
- A member of the Climate Group’s global EP100
- Lobbied in collaboration with the corporate leaders’ group, the Environment Ministers of the European Union, to review their interim targets to ensure net zero emissions can be achieved by 2050
Collaboration is key
We must collaborate to create real traction. Whether that is lobbying governments to act by removing subsidies for fossil fuels, legislating for zero carbon retrofits and new builds, or investing in fossil fuel free transportation and energy, joining and participating in the work of global networks such as Green Building Councils, or sharing stories with others to encourage positive action and change. All have an impact and are important.
Only by working together can we tackle the challenges outlined in the IPCC report. And this must be done now, this is not something that can wait another decade, or even another year. We must act without delay and advocate others to do the same.
Please have a look on our website to find out about the various initiatives we are involved in www.cundall.com.