COP26: success or failure?

COP26: success or failure?


When information began to emerge about what the COP26 climate summit would entail, there was a sense of excited anticipation about how world leaders would finally take the decisive action required to reverse climate change. Amid moments of disappointment and in some cases, anger, there was an overall response of hope, if not satisfaction; however, the jury is still out on how effective it was. When pushed to choose between success or failure, most people would likely stick to the middle ground.


The successes from COP26


It seems extraordinary that fossil fuels had never been mentioned in any previous COP agreement, given the clear scientific consensus that we need to phase them out as quickly as possible. As a result, coal was one of the most emotive subjects and is still a work in progress, but great steps were taken at the summit when around 23 countries made a firm pledge to phase out coal power. Unsurprisingly, countries who are large producers or users of fossil fuels were more focused on technologies and systems such as carbon offsets and carbon capture and storage as mitigation for the climate damage fossil fuels are responsible for.

Further ‘quick wins’ came in the form of:


COP26: success or failure?


Perhaps the biggest headline of all was the announcement that 450 organisations which control 40% of global assets would release $130 trillion of private capital to fund clean technology. There hasn’t been much more detail since the announcement, so we keenly await more information about eligibility and applications.



COP26 shortcomings


Not meeting the 1.5°C target was, of course, the greatest disappointment of the summit and the biggest risk to the planet. It seemed there was going to be a concrete commitment in the Climate Pact to ‘phasing out’ coal based on strong rhetoric around the subject. At the last minute it was  weakened to ‘phasing down’ by efforts from China and India; however the ball is rolling in the right direction and with countries asked to “revisit and strengthen” their NDCs by the end of 2022, perhaps the ball will gather speed.


A tentative ‘thumbs up’


We at Inteb are erring on the side of ‘there’s more that needs to be done’ but, overall, the outcomes of COP26 are good news. For us, it was key that the built environment had its first dedicated day at any COP since the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015. What was also a significant step forward is that countries are now looking at their nationally determined contributions (NDC’s) on an annual basis but, so far, only some have included real estate.

We would love to see the practical actions that are needed in real estate to be a focus in 2022. It’s essential that buildings are written into all NDC’s and that they have a clear road map to decarbonising building stock. There needs to be specific attention placed on reducing demand and improving efficiency, and we believe it’s critical that there is clear detail around performance outcomes and disclosures.


COP26 and challenges in the real estate sector


As we transition to net-zero, challenges are emerging in the real estate sector. When we look at the transition as a whole, including sustainability, ecology, and biodiversity, it’s clear that there are going to be a lot of distressed building assets within the next decade that we literally cannot do anything with. We need to understand what the knock-on effect of that is likely to be, there will be some buildings that simply cannot deliver net-zero through operational performance and questions need to be answered about their role. Additionally, with fewer than 5% of buildings having achieved net zero so far, the subject of retrofitting becomes increasingly important, as does funding for it.

Overall, there needs to be a whole lifecycle approach and systematic change to the decarbonisation of buildings and construction to tackle embodied carbon emissions and achieve net-zero. It would be good to have some clarity about how the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) will allocate the $130 trillion and how much will be directed to the real estate sector. At the moment it’s a high-level commitment, but one that’s welcome and will hopefully one that guide us to significant change.

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