UKGBC’s Chief Executive Julie Hirigoyen reflects on Built Environment Day of Cop26.
Here we are, the pinnacle of COP26 for our industry: Cities, Regions and Built Environment Day. After a week of debatable progress, today I am hopeful that with the spotlight on the built environment we at least may be able to translate some of the talk into tangible action.
COP26 was billed to be the most inclusive COP yet but it hasn’t been perceived as such by the wider public. This is disappointing but understandable. Glasgow itself has felt inclusive and welcoming but that’s partially down to fantastic fringe activities and endlessly hospitable Glaswegians. Not everyone can make it to Glasgow and not everyone is engaged.
Against this backdrop of inaccessibility, earlier this week we decided to make even more use of the most accessible item in our COP26 toolkit, Build Better Now. This cross-industry Virtual Pavilion was created to engage a wider audience in and beyond our industry and showcase tangible real-life solutions to the climate crisis. It’s already had amazing press coverage and been well received by the industry and public, but on Cities, Regions and Built Environment Day we wanted to make sure that everyone can get a flavour of what’s happening in the Blue Zone through the content within Build Better Now.
Feel free to share these links with your network. Build Better Now at the Virtual Pavilion is a tool for everyone so if this content helps others to navigate COP discussion points today, or simply provides a beacon of hope on what will likely be an intense day, then all the better.
Here’s what conversations will be taking place in the Blue Zone at COP26 today and how they are best explored in the Virtual Pavilion:
- The EU Pavilion will be discussing Ecosystem Restoration. Two great projects to explore this theme are Natural Capital Laboratory – a high-tech rewilding project helping to shape our understanding of ecosystem renewal – and also Singita Volcanoes National Park, a project in Rwanda that is engrained in the community, designed to rehabilitate the land and is a benchmark for sustainable conservation.
- Over in the UK Pavilion, Sustainable Heating is firmly on the agenda. Lots of projects in Build Better Now use heat pumps & renewable power to run heating and cooling systems – so there should be plenty of content to inspire people. Niddrie Road is a historic building using heat recovery units coupled with intensive insulation to bring heating costs down from approx. £120 to around £15 per month per flat. And Favela Da Paz in Brazil is another tangible example of sustainable heating. A micro solar panel generator provides free electricity, solar energy heats water and home-made biodigesters convert waste to gas. Hot showers are now possible for residents who previously couldn’t afford fuel.
- WWF are leading the debate on climate planning in Africa. This leads us to a long-term project called Mass Timber Building that could be transformative, not just for the environment but for the economy in East Africa. It looks at a full value chain approach from sustainable forestry through to processing and public buy-in.
- And finally, as expected, Cities are high on the agenda with most pavilions discussing city resilience and climate action. Check out Milan Innovation District, the largest-scale project in the exhibition. This masterplan reuses existing buildings where possible, plans new buildings for adaptation and disassembly and uses 100% renewable energy. It is built with no fossil fuels and will be absolute zero carbon by 2040. Climate change risks were identified early and planned for with nature-based infrastructure. We are excited about this development and encourage others to learn from it.
All of these projects highlight how innovation, knowledge sharing, collaboration and scalability are critical to the transformation of the built environment, just as they are critical to the success of COP26. Only by ensuring everyone has access to the knowledge, can partake in the progression and benefit from the transformation will we truly succeed, core principles at the heart of Build Better Now.
COP26 feels like a pivotal moment for our industry, we know we are a key part of the solution to climate change and our message is being heard, but now is the time to turn talk into action, increase our ambition and drive momentum forwards beyond COP. To do that we need to go beyond our usual corridors and engage a much wider audience, old and especially young – the future builders, engineers and designers of the sustainable built environment.
To this end, feel free to use the content in the Build Better Now exhibition to help explain the importance of radical change for the built environment and prove that radical change actually looks brilliant!