As COP26 comes to a close, the Elementa team considers what’s next. From the imminent energy crisis to the need to design buildings for tomorrow’s climate, what’s clear at every level is that rapid change must happen now.

Brian Goldsmith, Regional Director, UK + Europe on the power of people…

COP26 is over and the media have moved on to the next high-profile story. But what are the outputs from this that we can all learn from and practice every day to drive the construction industry to continue to play its part? Many will ask whether the effort is worth it, if the remaining 60% of global carbon emissions, outside of the built environment, are not driven down in the same way.

The construction industry has been on a proactive path for some time, continuously trying to work closer with both public and private sector clients to meaningfully commit to measurable targets on building performance and whole life carbon. Though many promises have been made regarding carbon reduction and environmental and social governance (ESG), that are currently unscripted and unplanned, defined roadmaps with achievable milestones can drive these promises to reality.

We must look to the future and consider how the flexibility of a dynamic infrastructure network between interconnected properties could utilise smart technology and data to create smart energy, towns and cities, bringing communities together in a shared mission towards a greener future. It is time to reframe the way we approach building ownership and the buying and selling of transactional commodities, in a united approach to our global climate goals.

This must go beyond energy. When considering the lifecycle of a building and associated whole life carbon, we must ask how we can go beyond the standard retrofit process, with new buildings being designed and built with an increasing percentage of recycled materials from other buildings. A huge amount of research and development needs to be accelerated across the construction industry, from the sourcing of raw materials, through to the equipment and internal infrastructure that bring buildings to life. Only then can we put a true price on construction and operational carbon.

When it comes to the provision of practical guidance and the detail behind the agreements made at COP26, it is clear that the conference has not fully achieved what it set out to. This should never have been depicted as the true catalyst of accelerated change. This change is already happening, and people power will ultimately prevail as the movement that strengthens throughout this critical time and for generations to come. The future generation will not act when they become adults, as they are already actively engaging both their hearts and minds as children. They will understand the urgency of the climate crisis and will choose wisely where they invest their time and money later in life. They will choose where to work, rest and play – something that the construction industry can change for the better, right now. Our industry should lead the way in what good looks like, or should I say, what it must look like.

Yara Machnouk, Environmental Designer on the energy crisis…

Having only recently joined the built environment industry as a young engineer, COP26 was a significantly important occasion to clearly define goals to meet our climate reduction targets with the appropriate skills, workforce, advancement in technology and funding. As a young engineer who will be experiencing the realities of what 2050 holds, understanding the implementation plans set to come from COP26 is vital.

With ‘Net Zero’ being discussed at the forefront, seeing a strategic pathway formalized in the UKGBC Net Zero Whole Life Carbon Roadmap was a big win for the UK building stock. It was also positive to see a global commitment to protecting the earth’s natural resources and limiting deforestation, highlighting the importance of nature-based solutions.

Anyone involved in the built environment industry can tell you how quick-paced the work environment is, but is it quick enough?

As with many things, less is always more. This can be said about the way we combat the climate crisis. The biggest impact we can have is by reducing our consumption and eliminating the use of fossil fuels. With the amount of energy that the building stock consumes and the ever-growing global population, all new and existing building stock needs to be designed to consume less energy. This means designing new buildings to more stringent criteria, embedding more efficient solutions, utilizing technology to its full capacity by embedding intelligent control systems and ensuring buildings are designed to be adaptable for future reuse.

Nathan Millar, Principal on designing for tomorrow’s climate…

While pledges were reconfirmed and in cases advanced – cutting methane emissions, reducing deforestation – there was an overwhelming sense that the opportunities presented by COP26 were not fully realised.

Being able to attend COP26 in person provided a timely and impactful opportunity to reconnect and be reinvigorated with the fundamental reasons of why we do the work that we do.  Listening and talking directly to those whose lives and livelihoods are in such a precarious position due to our historic and ongoing inaction, made clear why it is vital that as an industry we continue to play our part to reduce carbon emissions.

Keeping 1.5oC alive.  While a fragile agreement was reached, our route to maintaining global temperatures below 1.5oC is not clear or certain. The Glasgow Pact highlights this concern by requesting that countries strengthen their 2030 targets by the end of 2022 – introducing pressure to provide detail and information around the roadmaps and commitments to date.

We need to be resilient and adaptable. While we continue to work hard to limit global warming to below 1.5oC, we need to ensure that we design our towns and cities to meet the needs of tomorrow’s climate. We know that if we continue to design for today’s climate, we will not have the level of resilience needed – as we can see through the human impacts of the increase in extreme global weather events.

Co-operation is key. We need to capture the enthusiasm and knowledge from across the whole spectrum of society whether young or old, from east or west, north or south. We have seen that the power of cooperation and collaboration holds through the work of the London Energy Transformation Initiative (LETI), and it is only through this combined and collaborative approach that we are going to come close to meeting the vital targets that we need to.

Kevin Hydes, Founder + Chair on protecting one planet…

We are committed to giving all our clients and projects a pathway to zero as our contribution to this global race to rapid and systemic change.

From the outset of our firm, we have focused on net zero, whether it’s in the form of roadmaps, buildings, or supporting entire communities, this is the core of our essence as a firm.

The foundation of our business is built upon four pillars that continue to guide our efforts to address the climate crisis.

Imagine. Imagine what we can do both individually and collectively.
Perform. Measure, measure and measure again to track our results and progress in order to continually strive for better.
Accelerate. We are offering every client, city and country our support and expertise to help reach their goals faster.
Sustain. We must remember, that we have only one planet.

COP26 injected much-needed momentum to the global agenda. Our job now is to act with even more commitment and passion than ever before, through the work that we do and the lives we lead.