17 November 2022 Story Built Environment

How construction avoids climate catastrophe – Building to COP27 and beyond…

We are in a decade of reckoning for climate action – so will we see a breakthrough in the building sector by 2030?  

COP27 is my tenth COP. Back at COP19 I remember we only had one lacklustre panel on buildings in the official COP arena. The sector call to action was:

“What do we want? Incremental improvements in energy use! When do we want it? In due course…”.  

Fortunately at COP27 there is a more ambitious sector narrative, better solutions, and a plan to scale-up is starting to emerge. 

Energy efficiency and renewables are still the opening chapters of the sector’s climate story, but embodied and whole life carbon have risen fast up industry’s agenda. 

What’s been happening? 

The UK’s industry launched its Net Zero Whole Life Carbon (WLC) Roadmap at COP26. This sets out a clear set of solutions that need to be implemented by industry and policymakers to reduce the sector’s emissions to zero. Since, roadmaps in another 10 countries have followed.  

All countries need a WLC Roadmap. Fortunately organisations like the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction and World Green Building Council are on hand to support them. 

Likewise, embracing circularity to help tackle construction’s huge material emissions and impacts is now seen as central. The Circular Buildings Coalition has recently been launched to drive these changes: bringing together the leading minds and the biggest industry networks in circularity to help make system-wide change. 

The potential of regenerative biobased materials is a new and important chapter too. Industry frontrunners are striving for ways to harness nature’s carbon removal power alongside reducing emissions.  

Mass timber is one of the breakthrough solutions that offers a low carbon alternative to structural steel and cement while these hard to abate sectors slowly decarbonise. Built by Nature was launched by Laudes one year ago. Its fund has already been key in providing very practical solutions to help mainstream mass timber.   

Even ‘sufficiency’ is starting to form part of the industry narrative: building in a more space efficient way, rather than sticking to the business-as-usual scenario of doubling global floor space by 2060. Our partner Systemiq is currently working on some very exciting research which will soon revitalise the policy debate about what a better utilised built environment is for fair, thriving neighbourhoods in Europe. 

What are we missing?  

We still aren’t winning over the crowd. COP27 is supposed to be the ‘fair COP’. Yet what a just transition means in the context of decarbonising construction – and for those who create, shape and live in our built environment – is still unclear. 

Will deconstructing rather than demolishing buildings improve conditions for workers or worsen them? How can we scale models for community housing that ensure natural biobased homes are a privilege for the many – not just the few? 

For industry’s climate transformation to be viable, and to make it relevant to people’s everyday lives, we need a compelling story that brings everyone on board.  

How do we create a buildings breakthrough? 

Laudes is proud to support partners – like the Institute for Human Rights and Business, Building and Woodworkers International and Community Land Trusts in Europe – working to ensure communities and workers hold the pen for the next chapter of the story.  

There is no more fundamental impact on our lives than shaping the very homes that shelter our families. But if we want to achieve a breakthrough for buildings, and make the built environment mean more than incremental energy improvements, we need a new narrative which works for everyone. 

Laudes and our partners are calling on industry, policymakers, investors, workers and communities to support the 2030 Buildings Breakthrough. We need to tackle the whole life carbon emissions of the building sector and scale industry solutions ahead of COP28.  

Visit buildingtocop.org or search for #BuildingtoCOP27 for more information. 

  • James Drinkwater

    By James Drinkwater

    Head of Built Environment Programme