COP26 and the environmental impact of the construction sector

COP26 has been hitting the headlines this month, especially as the impact of climate change has felt incredibly pertinent in the wake of COVID-19. The climate summit is one of the most important gatherings of the year and, as it is being held in Glasgow, the UK’s performance is already under scrutiny. There is no doubt that the construction sector is at the heart of the positive change that can be made by the UK when it comes to climate commitments – and so has been put at the top of the agenda by this government.

What is COP26?

It is the UN Climate Change Conference that brings together heads of state and climate experts from all over the world. This year is the 26th summit and is taking place in Glasgow. The purpose is to make positive climate commitments happen and to report on any progress that might have been made since COP21, which was when the Paris Agreement set out to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C.

Why does the construction sector matter so much?

The construction sector is responsible for many of the problems that cause issues in terms of climate change, from waste to emissions. As a result, it has the potential to make a huge impact if small changes are introduced. This means it could be a significant factor in whether the UK is able to meet the targets that have been set for helping to combat climate change. There are a number of ways in which this could start to happen:

  • Changing the way that we use concrete. Other than water, concrete is the most used substance on the planet but the production process required to manufacture it can have a very negative impact on the environment. Using alternative materials and finding ways to recycle existing concrete could make a big difference to environmental outcomes, especially as, if the cement industry were a country, it would be the third-largest carbon dioxide emitter on the planet.
  • Tackling issues surrounding carbon. While operational carbon is now getting much more attention, embodied carbon is still something of an issue that needs attention if the industry is going to enact genuine change.
  • Reviewing planning approaches. For example, cities such as London are already reviewing planning regulations in place to help put more emphasis on the need for sustainable building. As the next generation coming into the planning environment is much more ecologically aware this should be a natural evolution.
  • Overcoming skills gaps. A recent report from the Institute for Public Policy Research identified that skills gaps in the construction sector could make it more difficult to reach net-zero targets. Currently, only 20% of those working in construction are under the age of 30 and there is a clear need to recruit more effectively and more widely to overcome this issue.

COP26 is a valuable opportunity to review climate commitments and progress towards them – and to define a new path forward for greener British construction.

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