COP28: the key takeaways for our industry 

At the end of another global climate summit, it’s clear that while there has been some positive progress for real estate, it’s not enough. We need to speed up action so that ambitious goals don’t stay in the realm of hopes and dreams. 

It’s no secret how much the built environment contributes to the world’s carbon emissions – almost 40%. The operations of buildings alone are responsible for a massive 30% of emissions, and the IEA finds that total energy use rose by around 1% in 2022. That’s moving us further away from the goals set by the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature increases to 1.5C. On the bright side, it also means that we have the potential to kick-start transformational change. A report from IPCC reveals that, through effective mitigation policies for our buildings, it’s possible to cut greenhouse gas emissions by a huge 80-90%.  

COP28, which took place in Dubai from 30 November to 12 December, attracted record numbers of participants, approximately 100,000 (compared with c.40,000 at Glasgow two years ago). The climate emergency is truly at crisis point and is now dominating our collective consciousness, a shared problem. This year, Expo City welcomed over 160 world leaders, included an address read out on behalf of the Pope, and a powerful speech delivered by King Charles, who stressed that we “are carrying out a vast, frightening experiment of changing every ecological condition…. [In] 2050 our grandchildren won’t be asking what we said, they will be living with the consequences of what we did or didn’t do.” 

A little less conversation and a little more action! 

Bulit environment day fell on 6th December, focusing on “Multilevel Action, Urbanization and Built Environment/Transport”, with an agenda dedicated to tackling urban challenges to transition to low-carbon and resilient buildings and infrastructure, especially as cities account for 70% of emissions.  

If we fail to get on top of the climate crisis, the alternative is a stark vision of the future, according to several industry reports launched at the conference: 

  • The Global Tipping Points Report states that we’re at risk of crossing five major ‘tipping points’ (irreversible changes and damage resulting from severe environmental pressures) at current levels of warming. It’s still possible to avert disaster, but this requires urgent worldwide action; 
  • The UKGBC’s Whole Life Carbon Roadmap Progress Report said – very worryingly – that “our industry is not moving fast enough” to reach net zero by 2050, and “we need to move nearly twice as fast to make up the shortfall and get back on track by 2025” making the strong point that we cannot extend the timeline to meet net zero;  
  • On a more positive note, the RICS Sustainability Report recorded that there’s been a rise (albeit modest) in investor and occupier demand for climate-adapted real estate. However, a lack of regulatory clarity around energy efficiency was cited as a roadblock to progress, as were costs.  

We saw some milestone moments at COP28, including the launch of the Buildings Breakthrough programme, an initiative brought forward by governments to accelerate the decarbonisation of the built environment, with the UK one of 27 signatories. 

However, most notable of all was the history-making ‘UAE Consensus’, whereby nations have finally agreed to transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems and, additionally, to triple global renewable energy capacity by 2030. This move aligns with our own domestic energy security strategy, with the UK government setting out plans to expand offshore wind and solar fivefold by 2035 and increase nuclear power. At present, we’re still too dependent on fossil fuels, not to mention vulnerable to wildly fluctuating energy prices on the back of geopolitical instabilities. Critics of the UAE Consensus have pointed out that, as the agreement is not legally binding, many loopholes can be found. But it’s just so refreshing to see a step in the right direction. 

The UK was the world’s first country to put our 2050 net zero target into law. That’s a laudable commitment, and the good news is that we absolutely can still make it – if we ramp up speed. Industry players and policymakers must find a way of collaborating on impactful action to deliver the measurable results we so urgently need to ensure a sustainable and safe future for tomorrow’s generations. Discussions and commitments are fantastic, but we don’t want to sound like a broken record again come COP29, so let’s act now.