I spent the day in Glasgow last Monday and I was lucky enough to attend a panel drawn together by OnePlant. Speakers included Pooran Desai OBE, Dr Alice Hill, Professor Sir David King, Jakapita Kandanga, and Professor Kevin Anderson. The discussion addressed the science of climate change. It was frank and laid bare the challenges and opportunities that we all have in front of us.
As I wandered to the gate late on a Monday night to fly home from Glasgow, I was struck by the party of Indonesians gathered around me, waiting to go through into the departures lounge.
Indonesia is one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases. Its emissions stem from deforestation, peatland megafires and burning fossil fuels for energy. It is also directly facing the challenges of climate change. The north part of Jakarta, a mega city of 30 million, is already suffering the impacts of flooding and subsidence. Studies suggest that 95% of northern Jakarta will be immersed by 2050. They are at a crossroad’s but still need to maintain their economic development.
Vulnerable countries like Indonesia, Madagascar, the Philippines, Namibia, and the Pacific Islands are facing up to the impact of climate change on a day-by-day basis. This is not just the burden of countries thousands of miles from here. Northern countries are starting to see accelerated weather patterns and the gradual erosion of normal day life. In the first six months of 2020, Siberia experienced a period of record-breaking temperatures with the town of Verkhoyansk reaching 38 degrees on the 20th June, causing wildfires, loss of permafrost and invasion of pests.
My taxi driver on the way into Glasgow was clear that climate change was all hype and not our problem. But earth is a system. Climate change affects everything from geopolitics and our economies to our social security. NATO now defines climate change as the one defining challenge of our time and identifies it as a threat multiplier that impacts Allied security. In a nutshell the realism of this change means melting Polar ice, a rise in sea levels, more flooding, deadly storms, droughts, water scarcity, fires, loss of homes, loss of biodiversity, forced migration, starvation, and conflict.
With the present rate of change this systematic failing will lead right to the front door of every person living on the British Isles whether we directly suffer the impact of climate change or not.
Real Estate has a role in driving mitigation: from impact investing, insurance, addressing older building stock, innovative building practices, the integration of climate risk into design, the future-proofing of infrastructure and the symbiotic relationship between urban and rural landscapes (to name a few).
Over the last few years I have witnessed the increased sincerity, accountability and engagement of the Real Estate industry to drive innovative solutions in sustainable practices, through areas such as technology, certification and investment.
Many of us understand that incremental changes will not be enough. Collaboration and an integrated decarbonisation plan are vital. COP26 shines a light at the global goodwill even with the economic challenges that many countries face. Last week 60% of the UK’s FTSE 100 companies signed up to the UN’s Race to Zero campaign, the largest global alliance committed to achieving net carbon emissions by 2050; C40 launched the Clean Construction Action Coalition and the UK Green Building Council launched the first ever UK Roadmap for achieving Net Zero by 2050. (Net Zero Whole Life Carbon Roadmap for the UK Built Environment). The US and China even created a joint declaration stating that they were “intent on seizing this critical moment to engage in expanded individual and combined efforts to accelerate the transition to a global net-zero economy”.
With the end of COP26, 200 countries have now reached an agreement. Fifteen days of discussions have broadly been a success. The aim of keeping the Paris Agreement alive has been achieved and it does seem that the threat of climate change is starting to be treated with the seriousness that it deserves. Collaboration and engagement have taken place across all industries, including Real Estate, and there seems to be a huge step forward.
However, I am mindful of the comments made by the OnePlanet panel last Monday about the immediacy of this issue. China and India’s last-minute watering down of their coal commitments, irrespective of their declared goodwill, makes it clear that the path to progress is not always a straight line.
There is still a long way to go.