Real estate can lead in fight against climate change

COMMENT: A recent BBC radio documentary reminded us that climate change is not a new issue. You can trace predictions of a man-made greenhouse effect back as far as the end of the 19th century and it’s almost 30 years since the first report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

But for a whole host of reasons we have failed as a global community to act decisively and take action to slow the pace of our behaviour’s detrimental effect on the planet and mitigate the size of the challenge now facing us.

The IPCC’s most recent special report on climate change, issued last year, warns us starkly that the clock continues to tick and we have only a few years left within which to have any chance of avoiding significant adverse impacts globally.

So the resurgence of public focus and debate through movements such as the school strike (and the engagement of Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg challenging world leaders) and Extinction Rebellion, as well as the work of hugely respected media figures such as Sir David Attenborough is timely and welcome.

Climate change is an issue that has come back up the agenda to demand the attention of people from across the globe.

We often discuss trust in and perception of the sector and how we can better communicate the social value we provide, rather than just our economic impact, to improve this. For the vast majority of our sector’s stakeholders, our social value is measured by our impact on the environment and we often fail to make this connection

Cleaner, more sustainable urban growth has been at the top of the property sector’s agenda for some time, but we have been reminded again in the past few months of the need to put the environment first, and the vital role this plays in our sector’s long-term success and our planet’s future.

The built environment has a huge role to play in protecting our planet, as a major user of resources and emitter of carbon.

The BPF is proud to support the work of the UK Green Building Council in developing an industry-led definition for net zero carbon buildings, and the Better Building Partnership’s Design for Performance project.

UKGBC is currently running a range of projects from Advancing Net Zero to climate resilience and embedding circular principles for property and construction with the launch of a new industry framework to transition new and existing buildings to become net zero carbon by 2050. All of this is in line with the ambitions of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The BBP’s initiative looks to address the performance gap between commercial buildings that are ostensibly, through building regulations and other standards, designed to be energy- and carbon-efficient, but often fall short of being as efficient in practice or operation.

We are asking our members to unite and support both initiatives, to ensure our sector can demonstrate leadership and act collectively in the fight for a more sustainable future.

See also: Twelve years and ticking: the commercial property time-bomb

As a sector, we often discuss trust in and perception of the sector – and how we can better communicate the social value we provide, rather than just our economic impact.

For the vast majority of our sector’s stakeholders, our social value is measured by our impact on the environment, or the two are synonymous, and we often fail to make this connection.

With the built environment contributing around 40% of the UK’s total carbon footprint, according to UKGBC, we still have a lot of work to do before we’re able to tell a compelling story.

Smart regulation will be imperative, and the BPF’s sustainability committee sits at the heart of our sector’s engagement with the government on policy in this space.

While the government is currently under the spotlight amid intense scrutiny by the media and public, it’s important to note its commitment to clean growth has been framed as a grand challenge in its industrial strategy and there is no longer a single department tasked with advancing this agenda.

The spread now covers BEIS, MHCLG, DEFRA, Treasury, and DHSC, among others.

This is the sort of joined-up approach and leadership we need from the government. While peaceful activism can act as a catalyst for change – and highlight uncomfortable truths so that no one can ignore them – decision-making and change on the scale that is required needs legal processes and structures as well as alignment of interests and incentives.

The IPCC report gives us 10-12 years to act – let’s make sure we rise to the challenge.

Melanie Leech is chief executive of the British Property Federation