April 26th 2022

The final warning: the role of the built environment in turning the tide on emissions

The final warning: the role of the built environment in turning the tide on emissions

In the third installment of their sixth report, the IPCC have given their final warning that we must act to avoid the devastating consequences of climate change. The report states that greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2025 and that there is potential to halve emissions this decade through the collective effort of governments, businesses and individuals. 

This really is a final call to action. We can no longer afford to sit back; every sector has a responsibility to play their part in avoiding the climate crisis and it’s clear that we are running out of time. A seismic shift is needed to halve emissions in the next decade, and as a contributor of nearly 40% of global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, the built environment and all those who work within it are certainly not exempt from stepping up and making a change. 

There have been suggestions that to counteract the impact of the war in Ukraine and rising fuel prices, we may have to return to an increased reliance of fossil fuels. This is not the answer and the wrong approach for governments to be considering. It is clear that heading in this direction would dash any hopes of avoiding a crisis further down the line. Instead, we must be focusing on improving energy efficiency across the board so that less energy is needed overall and the impact on the planet is reduced. In addition, we should look to renewable energy sources and alternative fuels as different ways to address the issues.

Whilst many businesses and local authorities are claiming to be working to reduce emissions to zero, a significant number of these do not have tangible plans in place to make this happen. Similarly, many have not considered the impact of their estates or factored in how they will reduce the emissions and improve the energy efficiency of these.  

The tools to enable an effective roadmap to net zero already exist, they just need to be utilised effectively. There is potential to meet the goals set out in the report if we wake up to the importance of embracing technology, such as digital twins, to design and build zero carbon, energy efficient buildings and close the performance gap between predicted and actual in-use energy performance. Additionally, we must look to improve existing buildings, by using the technology available to access detailed data on where improvements can be made to enhance energy performance.

The built environment must make a dramatic and rapid shift to significantly reduce its contribution to emissions. Technology offers the answer to doing this, particularly in the built environment sector, where it is capable of providing the tools to make the difference. We can no longer overlook the potential of buildings to help mitigate the effects of climate change.  The longer it takes to use the available technology the less likely it will be that we can achieve the desired 2050 decarbonisation target.