Climate change – is construction all talk and no action?
It was nearly a year ago that world leaders gathered in Glasgow for COP26 – the UN’s annual Climate Change Conference. There was a lot of positive talk but have we seen any action as a result?
Climate change is having a significant impact on businesses, society and individuals with the construction sector very much a part of this. The sector’s greenhouse gas emissions account for approximately 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions, this made up of material manufacture and transport, on site practices as well as the heating, cooling and lighting of buildings.
Whilst there is lots of talk about climate change and its impact and the need for the construction sector to do more, do we really understand and appreciate the enormity of the situation we find ourselves in?
What is the construction sector’s role in combating climate change?
I recently attended the CABE (Chartered Association of Building Engineers) annual conference. Entitled “Embedding Sustainability”, it sought to address the fact that the construction industry has a role to play in addressing the climate emergency. Building projects - whether they are new builds or renovations - need to embed sustainable practices within them ensuring that buildings not only reduce their impact on the environment now, but for the future as well.
What are the collective impacts we could see on our climate system?
Whilst we are all aware of the climate emergency, I don’t think we quite appreciate the urgency of it or the impact that we are collectively having on our planet. Figures from a presentation given by Will Arnold, Head of Climate Action at the Institution of Structural Engineers, illustrated it very nicely.
In his presentation, he pointed out that today we are experiencing a 1°C increase in global temperatures when compared to the pre-industrial revolution average temperatures. 1°C doesn’t sound a lot but if that rises to 1.5°C, we will see a 100% increase in flood risk and 700 million people will be exposed to severe heatwaves once every 20 years. If it goes further to 2°C, we will see a 170% increase in flood risk and it will rise to 2 billion people exposed to severe heatwaves once every 20 years. Floods cause huge damage (to property and to economies) plus the threat to life. Severe heat waves quite simply put, kill thousands of people.
Construction has to play its part
Breaching 1.5°C is not inevitable, but it requires action now if we are to achieve rapid and deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions. Government intervention in the shape of legislation will go part of the way but industry has to play its part too.
As a sector we know we have a key role to play in addressing climate change and sometimes we need to hear the truth no matter how shocking. Maybe we need to better understand the consequences of climate change and how they will affect us, our children and our children’s children. A little change in global temperature will have a big impact and we therefore need big changes now to make sure this doesn’t happen.
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