International data consensus will transform our sector’s net zero response
Six years on from the landmark Paris Agreement, leaders from across the globe will soon be meeting in Glasgow for the COP26 summit. Fears that the intervening years may have seen a loss in global focus on the climate change challenge have proved unfounded, and the increasing frequency and ferocity of natural disasters have crystalised a societal view that we must limit our global carbon emissions.
There is international agreement that we must change our actions and behaviours, and a 2050 target that is enshrined in law. So far, so good right? We accept there’s a major problem looming and scientists have given us a clear target to hit – but how we get there collectively and what we must we do as individual nations needs to be resolved at pace.
ISG’s International Sustainable Buildings Monitor is our contribution to this critical debate as our sector is responsible for circa 40% of global carbon emissions. It’s a piece of research that by its very nature is designed to stimulate conversations around fundamental issues surrounding data capture, measurement and dissemination. This is a global challenge, and if we do not have uniformity in the way we record our sector’s impact, then we risk missing a target that will have a profoundly negative multi-generational legacy.
ISG’s Sustainable Buildings Monitor provides data on the international variations in the carbon emissions and energy consumption due to the operation of commercial buildings.
The difficulty bringing together a raft of disparate data sources from countries across the globe to attempt direct comparison for this report highlights and underpins the challenge that we currently face. Without agreement on a robust global measurement framework, not only do we bring opaqueness to a challenge that demands absolute transparency, but we hamper our ability to attract investment, that is increasingly linked to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria, and the swift implementation of innovations that could prove transformative.
Our experience with the outstanding global response to developing COVID-19 vaccines may add credence to the belief that technology will solve the climate crisis. However, this is a battle on multiple fronts and on a scale that dwarfs the pandemic crisis. The world needs to rapidly decarbonise its energy networks and the report shows the scale of the challenge for countries across the globe. But even if we could make that transformation overnight, our exponential demand for energy would quickly outstrip supply. Only two countries in our research actually showed a decline in energy use within the commercial sector in the decade up to 2017.
It is clear that our buildings must perform better, be built to enhanced standards and be monitored, operated and maintained better. Procurement decisions must be predicated around carbon mitigation and we must use and source materials ethically and always consider whole life costs (both monetarily and carbon related) with a core focus on reclaiming and reusing materials in their primary form through circular principles.
The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) has commissioned its new visionary headquarters. This world first for a retrofitted sustainable office building will set new standards for low energy use, carbon emissions and impact on natural resources.
This is a global challenge of both supply and demand - our sector has a direct influence on the demand-side element, and the positive news is that today we have the tools and methodologies to deliver buildings that achieve net zero performance. Ground-breaking deep retrofit projects are exemplars for how this can be achieved in the 80% of buildings we see today, that will also exist in 2050, and new build carbon positive schemes show the world a future of net gain.
As each day passes, we compress the timeline between now and 2050, and let’s not forget that this commitment is merely to stop the harm that has already been done to our planet, not reverse it. Global collaboration remains our most influential solution to this global challenge, alongside a universal measurement framework acting as the catalyst for stretching country and sector carbon reduction targets. A piecemeal approach will not work, this must be a global commitment for radical change.