COP 26 Explainer

2nd February 2021

What is it?

COP stand for Conference of the Parties, and it is an annual event where reps from countries around the world meet to discuss measures to address climate change. This year Britain is hosting the 26th COP in Glasgow – it was meant to be held in 2020 but was postponed due to the pandemic. Started at Rio Earth Summit in 1992 by UN.

Why is this one significant?

This is the first COP since the Covid-19 pandemic. Not only has the vast human cost and global disruption from this focussed minds on other risks such as climate change; but many countries are hoping to use low carbon measures and technologies to help rebuild their economies. COP 26 is therefore a real opportunity to get concrete agreements in place and secure the investment needed to take effective action.

What is the key aim?

The main aim of COP26 summit is to ensure the aims of the Paris Agreement of 2015 are put into practice, at a time when many feel we are making too little progress, too late. The Paris Agreement called on nations to take actions to limit global warming to less than 2C above pre-industrial levels, and ideally to less than 1.5 C. By doing this it is hoped the worst effects of climate change can be avoided. Current temperatures are already around 1C hotter.

How will it achieve this?

  • The five key priority areas for COP 26 are:
  • The energy transition – from fossil fuels to low or zero carbon technologies
  • The shift to zero-carbon transport, such as vehicles powered by renewable electricity generation or hydrogen
  • Adaptation and resilience – what needs to be done to prepare for the effects of climate change that already cannot be stopped, such as temperature and sea level rises, and more extreme weather patterns
  • Nature and the safeguarding of ecosystems
  • Releasing green finance to fund the changes needed, particularly in the developing world

What does it mean for business?

Discussions at COP 26 will guide future funding decisions (carrots) and legislation (sticks) for climate related issues in coming years; so being aware of what happens will help businesses prepare. A successful COP should also see increased investment in infrastructure measures, such as energy and transport, that will help businesses to achieve their own net zero carbon goals.

Such a high-profile summit also raises awareness of environmental issues in the wider population which will have an impact on how they interact with businesses. Consumers, clients, and investors are increasingly rewarding those with clear, meaningful plans to reduce their climate impacts; and employees are keen to work with companies that they feel are making a difference. Harnessing the awareness raised by COP 26 therefore offers a real opportunity for organisations to attract talent, investment, and future work.

What about the built environment?

ENERGY – For buildings where on-site renewable energy systems aren’t an option, including many in urban areas, the transition of the national grid from fossil fuels to renewable electricity or the provision of more local renewable generation will help to cut carbon emissions from electricity use. Switching from gas to green electricity for heating systems will also have a big impact; but may bring increased costs and will require much more effort on behalf of building owners who may need to make significant alterations to heating systems. Any further information on how this will be supported will therefore be welcome.

TRANSPORT – Similarly, as the construction industry relies heavily on the transportation of both people – it cannot all be done remotely – and materials, measures to help implement greener transport options will also have a big impact on carbon emissions.

ADAPTATION & RESILIENCE – As the unavoidable impacts of climate change begin to be felt, the built environment will have a major role to play in maintaining the health, safety, and wellbeing of people everywhere. Better data on how climate change can be predicted will in turn give guidance on the likely adaptations that will be needed for changes such as increased temperatures and extreme weather events. This will enable more resilient communities and buildings to be developed. Increased investment in infrastructure such as drainage systems and flood defences will also help protect wider areas.

NATURE – We are increasingly recognising the many benefits that the natural world provides – from storing carbon to reducing flooding and improving mental health – at a time when the world’s ecosystems and biodiversity are at a critical level of risk from human activity and climate change. Not only must those working in the building industry do all they can to prevent harm and where possible work to enhance biodiversity; but we must also look to harness the many ways that natural systems can help to make our communities and buildings more sustainable. This is often referred to as ‘nature-based solutions’ or ‘natural capital’.

FINANCE – Whilst local and national governments are looking at ways to provide financial incentives or support for sustainability measures; private investors are also increasingly looking at the environmental impacts of their portfolios. This includes built assets such as commercial buildings, which will be expected to not only demonstrate high levels of environmental performance but future-proofing through resilience and adaptation to climate change.

What is BW doing?

  • Energy transition – All our energy at Head office is provided by a certified green energy tariff, and we will be working with clients to see how we can support them to also transition to cleaner energy. We have already delivered projects which use onsite renewables such as photovoltaics or connect to district heating systems and energy centres.
  • Transportation – Many of our employees already get to work by public transport or bike, and often walk between sites. However, the transport of materials to and waste from our sites is a significant source of indirect (Scope 3) carbon emissions; and reducing these is a key focus in our Net Zero Carbon Strategy. We will be working with our supply chain and waste contractors to minimise the journeys needed and find cleaner transport methods.
  • Adaptation & Resilience – We have analysed and reported our climate risk and carbon emissions through CDP for the past two years, and will continue to refine this, incorporating the recommendations into our corporate strategy and individual projects;
  • Nature – In addition to continuing to look at ways to bring the benefits of nature into our projects; such as the green walls at Heddon Street for The Crown Estates; we shall be looking at our wider impact on the natural world through the sourcing of materials and products. We shall also invest in appropriate and effective nature-based solutions to help offset the emissions we cannot yet reduce.
  • Finance – Working with our clients we shall continue to push forward high levels of environmental performance on all our projects, with increased reporting and certification for them to demonstrate this to their investors and stakeholders. We shall also invest in supporting our project teams and supply chain to deliver ever more innovative sustainability solutions.