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‘Built environment firms must act now on climate change’

Julie hirigoyen
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The chief executive of the UK Green Building Council has responded to today’s dramatic IPCC report by issuing a call to arms to firms working in the built environment  

Julie Hirigoyen said every firm’s boardroom should be reviewing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report on limiting global warming to 1.5°C and taking concerted action in response.

‘Only by all working together to effect change at speed and at scale will we stand any chance of rising to the challenge outlined today,’ she said.

Hirigoyen, who was profiled by the AJ last year, was backed by RIBA president Ben Derbyshire who said co-ordinated action by architects was ‘urgently’ required.

The IPCC’s report warns that the world is now badly off track in meeting the current preferred target of a 1.5°C rise in global temperatures, instead moving towards 3°C.

Keeping to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels would require ‘rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society,’ the report says – a task that is still achievable, albeit extremely expensive in the short term.

Greenpeace policy adviser Kaisa Kosonen, an observer at the negotiations in South Korea which produced the report, said: ‘Scientists might want to write in capital letters, “ACT NOW IDIOTS”, but they need to say that with facts and numbers. And they have.’

The report called for rapid and significant changes in four big global systems: energy, land use, cities and industry, and said action by individuals was also crucial, such as reducing meat and dairy consumption and insulating homes.

Hirigoyen called the report a ‘wake-up call for governments and businesses across the globe’.

She said: ‘This latest IPCC report points to the urgency and scale of action required to achieve this, which should be keenly reviewed by every single boardroom. There is no doubt that business leaders need to make bold decisions today to transition to a low/no carbon economy that can sustain future generations.

‘The construction and property industry in the UK is an economic juggernaut, and our buildings account for approximately 30 per cent of carbon emissions. It is also the industry with the most cost-effective means of reducing carbon emissions so it will be a vital catalyst for change in the wider economy.’

The UKGBC’s Advancing Net Zero programme is a collaborative drive to achieve a net zero carbon built environment by 2050, something that would be commensurate with the 1.5°C limit.

Derbyshire told the AJ: ‘Buildings are responsible for nearly a third of carbon emissions and this must be cut to achieve the targets set out at [the 2015 Paris summit] and in this report.

‘Architects and the wider built-environment sector have the opportunity to contribute directly to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by designing sustainable buildings and retrofitting existing stock that is fit for the future.

‘These goals apply to all countries, developed and developing, and it is only by collaborating across continents that we can truly prevent climate change from devastating our planet.’

Derbyshire added that the RIBA’s Ethics and Sustainable Development Commission had recommended that the UN SDGs ‘sit at the heart’ of what the institute does. He said the five commitments made recently by him and the presidents of the other four UK and Irish architecture institutes included ‘our contribution to saving the planet’. 

Comment: ‘We cannot wait for government to do something’

Richard Twinn, senior policy advisor, UKGBC

Architects are going to be pretty vital in responding to the IPCC report because once you have designed a building, you have really determined how future proof it is for life. Everyone is going to have a role to play however because the current timeframes put forward really demonstrate that we cannot wait for government to do something.

We only have the next 12 years or so to limit carbon emissions so we have to take the initiative. Architects need to think through the designs for buildings for 2050 as soon as possible because limiting temperatures to 1.5C requires a reduction of emissions from buildings by 80-90% by 2050 at a global level. In the UK, as a more advanced economy, that really means taking a lead and achieving zero carbon.

The three brackets that architects need to consider are zero carbon energy in operation, zero carbon embodied energy and climate adaptation.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Too little too late?

    While corporations fail humanity regular people are turning to mass civil disobedience -

    http://www.ecohustler.co.uk/2018/09/19/how-to-stop-the-destruction-of-our-climate/

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