Climate Change and Construction
COP26 is generating plenty of headlines, from David Attenborough’s rousing call to action, to activists walking from Portsmouth to Glasgow in a reminder to politicians that their words need to be more than just PR-friendly spiel.
What will follow is some of the most influential world leaders discussing what can be done to combat climate change, with a key target being to prevent global temperatures increasing by more than 1.5॰C by 2100 compared to pre-industrial times.
Climate change is a term we hear regularly but to get to the heart of what we should be doing about it, we need to step back and remind ourselves what it actually means.
BBC News has delved into this devastating subject. The word ‘climate’ is occasionally misused, which perhaps leads to confusion over climate change. Rather than just referring to daily weather conditions, it means the average weather in a place over a long period. Post-industrialisation, the surge in fossil fuels, such as oil, gas and coal, have seen greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere when they burn, thereby trapping heat from the sun and causing the temperature of the planet to rise.
Concerningly, between the years 1981 and 2019, a new temperature record was set on average every 3 years, compared to every 13.5 years between 1900 and 1980, while the temperature has increased by 0.18॰C per decade in the last 40 years.
If sufficient action isn’t taken to halt the trend, and the land and ocean temperature continues to increase, it could lead to dangerous heatwaves and rising sea levels causing millions to lose their homes, as well as wipe out plant life and animal species. Entire regions could become uninhabitable and farmland could turn into desert, causing severe damage to food supply, especially in developing countries. Conversely, countries including China, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands have all recently seen unprecedented flooding.
It goes without saying – but is worth reiterating nonetheless: this is a major global issue which has been under-addressed for far too long, hence we find ourselves at, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson put it in his COP26 address, “one minute to midnight.”
And while the world leaders discuss what measures need to be taken, we are all responsible for doing our bit, as companies and as individuals.
As we have said in the past, the property industry can be hugely influential in shaping people’s daily habits, through the systems installed in their homes to the information and advice they provide at handover.
BBC News highlights five changes individuals can make, four of which can be implemented by developers when building new homes: stop driving or use an electric car; buy energy efficient products, such as washing machines, when replacing existing appliances; switch from gas heating to an electric heat pump; and insulate your home.
Whether it’s by fitting EV charging points or installing suitable systems and insulation in their homes, developers can provide home users with the tools to effortlessly make these lifestyle changes as soon as they move into their new home.
But this is just scratching the surface of ways in which developers can influence home user habits for the betterment of the planet.
The layout of a home can have a strong bearing on how it is used, and how home users shape their lives around it.
For example, the pandemic has opened many companies up to the idea of remote working. During lockdown, photos of Venice canals went viral, as the water became clearer and wildlife returned, providing a retweetable example of the damage caused by pollution. Even now that many offices are returning to normality, there is much more flexibility around working from home. By ensuring their homes have adequate working space, developers can encourage their home users to ditch the daily commute and reduce their carbon footprint by making full use of the home office. Similarly, planning developments close to public transport networks can present home users with a more sustainable alternative to driving.
To delve further into the home user’s subconscious, the kitchen design can also promote more sustainable practices. Cooking is another habit that was changed by the pandemic, with people deciding to cook more regularly and healthily. Part of this involves using more sustainable ingredients. Buying locally, ethically sourced foods, and reducing meat and dairy consumption are just some of the ways home users can minimise their carbon footprint. In fact, 63% of people are willing to pay more for sustainable ingredients. Developers can further encourage this by making kitchens a central part of the house.
Almost 43% of people spend between 30 to 60 minutes cooking each weeknight. By making the kitchen as comfortable and social a space as possible, more home users will be encouraged to cook healthy, sustainable meals at home, rather than relying on takeaways or meals out, which again means more carbon emissions.
The “one minute to midnight” analogy is no exaggeration.
1.5॰C is the limit.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we are on course to reach this in the early 2030s – some 70 years earlier than the deadline.
As the construction industry is responsible for 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions, we should be looking at everything we can do to address the issue, and influencing daily habits through build design, installations and education could be some of the most effective ways to shape the public’s mentality before the bell tolls.