Three policy perspectives on COP26

25 Nov 2021

After two weeks of intense dialogue and diplomacy at COP26 in Glasgow we caught up with Green Building Council of Australia’s (GBCA) policy team to find out about the outcomes that matter for the built environment. We asked if we’re on track to make a meaningful reduction in emissions and if that is possible without the support of government policy.

Hints of optimism on a global scale

On a global level signs of hope bubbled to the surface at COP26 and we saw leadership across several areas:

We also witnessed USA and China - two of the world’s biggest economies who are among the biggest carbon emitters – reach a surprise agreement to support green design, circular economy and lower emissions by electrifying end-use sectors including the built environment.

The built environment’s role in a global solution

Our industry is responsible for almost 40 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions and according to the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC), by 2060 the world’s building stock will double and almost 70 percent of the global population is projected to live in urban areas. Global material use is expected to more than double and a third of this rise is attributable to materials used in the building and construction system.

For these reasons, the first Cities, Regions and Built Environment Day came as a welcome addition to COP26. The day focused on the need to reduce embodied carbon, increase electrification and ways to boost energy efficiency in buildings – all of which are addressed through the Green Star suite of tools.

WorldGBC released the Beyond the business case report, a groundbreaking paper outlining why the built environment can’t afford NOT to invest in sustainability, while the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment (The Commitment) gained the pledges of another 44 businesses and now has a total 156 signatories including 28 Australian companies.

Looking ahead, we believe there will be an international push towards electrification of buildings, growth in the importance of nature-based solutions as a mechanism to compensate carbon emissions and increased attention on the elephant in the room, embodied carbon, particularly in the steel and cement industries.

Nigel Topping, UN High Level Climate Champion for COP26 said the Cities, Regions and Built Environment Day’s accomplishments as “a launchpad for further climate leadership across the built environment system.”

Australia locks in a target, but a national game plan will be required

Analysis released last week by the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned that targets set at COP26 must be teamed with higher ambition, strong implementation and clear tracking to deliver real results and keep global warming below 2C.

GBCA welcomed the Australian Government’s commitment to a net zero emissions target by 2050. Local and state governments around the country are already delivering a raft of policies that will deliver a healthier, more sustainable future for all, and we will continue to highlight the unique opportunity the built environment offers to dramatically reduce carbon emissions and the importance of Federal leadership in realising the potential in this sector.

The Australian Government is championing a technology-led approach to emissions reduction and this is something the built environment is embracing in many ways. It can be seen from the AI used to boost energy efficiency in buildings to the electrification of homes and commercial spaces, but a roadmap is essential to embed the deeper benefits of tech.

Industry isalready warning that technology won’t come fast enough without policy that pushes uptake and investment. Strong leadership and a policy environment that sets clear targets will be critical to accelerate innovation and foster the uptake of technology.

COP26 reinforced that the decade of decarbonisation is now. We look forward to continuing to work with governments across Australia on a range of opportunities to reduce emissions in their own operations and within the built environment.