As published in EG on 15 December 2022

After what are now 27 COPs, have we actually made steps that will tackle the global climate crisis we find ourselves in? Or has real estate escaped the global stage?

The built environment constitutes for nearly 40% of greenhouse emissions, making it a key industry to help us reach net zero. Yet, unlike COP26, there was no entire day dedicated to real estate at COP27, with the industry mentioned throughout talks over the two weeks.

Ahead of the conference, we asked industry professionals via LinkedIn what they would like to see at the top of the agenda at COP27. From energy security to the 1.5°C limit, we discussed pressing environmental issues that we would like to see addressed and what changes advocated for. Out of four options, 32% voted for energy security, 29% for whether the 1.5˚C limit is enough, 26% for the role of developed nations and 12% for biodiversity. However, initial expectations of COP27 are in contrast to the outcomes; I don’t think many of us expected loss and damage to take centre stage in the manner it has.

With negotiations taking place late into the night on the final day, a historic decision was made to establish a loss and damage fund to help those nations most vulnerable to the risks of climate change. We are still awaiting details on the fund but we can expect it to support developing countries for any losses from natural disasters that can be attributed to climate change. What we don’t know is who will pay into it, how the level of contribution will be determined and who will benefit.

Industry-wide push

A bigger focus for real estate is that of energy security. As an industry, we have seen the popularity of solar energy go through the roof. We all understand how clean, renewable energy is a viable option to make our buildings self-sufficient and green. Paired with making buildings and businesses more efficient, the UK government has championed the use of renewables to move away from coal, yet no further progress was made at COP27 to completely phase out fossil fuels. How can we decarbonise the built environment while still making use of harmful fossil fuels?

While not at the top of our industry’s priority list, biodiversity has a big role to play in tackling the climate crisis and is gaining more recognition on the global stage. As a focus of one of the 11 thematic days, the value of natural capital and its connection to the climate crisis was acknowledged as a critical route to net zero.

Finally, with nearly a third of real estate wanting to see it addressed in the agenda, we would have hoped to see more emphasis placed on the 1.5°C global temperature goal. The 1.5°C limit is perhaps one of the more ambitious targets of the Paris Agreement adopted at COP21, but it is also one of the highest importance. The Emissions Gap Report 2022, released by UNEP prior to COP27, highlighted the significant societal change needed to reach 1.5°C but COP27 didn’t make the progress that climate professionals felt was vital to achieving the Paris Agreement temperature increase limit. Rapid progress needs to occur to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and avert increasingly dangerous weather events that affect significant proportions of life on earth. Flooding in Pakistan and Australia and the recent landslide in Ischia are all examples of this.

More effort needed

While perhaps not addressed by our global leaders, ultimately it is essential that real estate decarbonises to both reach the 1.5°C target and reduce the risks of climate change. From retrofitting to increase energy efficiency, to introducing low-carbon development strategies, there are a multitude of ways we can decrease our carbon footprint. Now it just needs developers and owners to prioritise these steps – and act now.

With the rise of ESG qualifications in the UK and beyond, from NABERS to BREEAM, and MEES legislation taking affect from April 2023 to improve energy efficiency, does this mean we as an industry are on track to become net zero? The answer is no. Simply, this is not enough. We need the built environment to be addressed and prioritised by leaders across the world, holding us accountable to make tangible change. In the UK, we need to see planning change, legislation on existing energy use and meaningful progression of Part Z and the UK Net Zero Carbon Building Standard. With serious action, we can reverse the effects of climate change and continue progress at COP28.

It’s time for both real estate and global leaders to wake up, speed up and act now for a greener, more resilient and sustainable future.