As we entered this new decade Climate Change was topping polls across the globe as the public’s #1 concern. The past few months have seen COVID-19 claim all the headlines and be the singular focus of people and governments alike.
The 2020 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) would have been hosted in the UK. It was to be the most important gathering of up to 200 world leaders on climate change in history and the largest summit the UK has ever hosted. The aim to produce a set of commitments to transition to a low carbon global economy. Instead, COP26 has been postponed to 2021 and we are in the depths of a human and economic crisis the likes of which we have not seen in our lifetimes.
Yet, we are assured the impacts of COVID-19, while catastrophic, will be relatively short term and the economic bounce back will be strong.
Will climate change then reassert its #1 position on people’s agendas or will we see a lost decade of climate action similar to the period post Global Financial Crisis?
There is only one answer that is even vaguely acceptable. Climate change has to be addressed and to be seen as part of the solution to the global economic travails we face.
Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, there was widespread consensus among the majority of global leaders, policy makers and senior financiers that climate change was an existential threat to our current way of life. Urgent transition to a zero-carbon economy was required.
If the climate models are correct the estimated number of human casualties and the threat to the global economy are in a different stratosphere to COVID-19 if we continue on our current path.
Even if all nations go beyond the global carbon targets agreed in the Paris Climate Agreement the modelling suggests we are still on course to see mass extinctions, unprecedented flooding of coastal communities, collapse of some ecosystems and fishery catches decreasing by up to 3 million tonnes over the next few decades.
The real estate industry has a fundamental role in mitigating the impact of climate change and helping the regrowth in the global economy.
- Transitioning to a zero-carbon future, this means factoring in full lifecycle carbon analysis into construction and refurbishment projects.
- Accounting for carbon impacts in our site selection criteria.
- Greater awareness of what a “green” asset is and be able to provide this insight to the broader industry.
- Sustained and systemic change in the commercial real estate industry and in the wider economy.
The highly influential Taskforce on Climate Related Disclosure – established in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis to ensure long term economic stability – has set out in detail the level of in-depth information required from business to allow investors, lenders and insurers to adequately understand and factor in their exposure to climate risk.
These requirements stand unimpacted and independent of COVID-19 and will continue to revolutionize our sector in the years to come as increasing numbers of investors and occupiers respond to pressure to report on and address their exposure to strategic climate risks.
I recently wrote about the potentially long lasting impacts of COVID-19 on real estate sustainability performance. Buoyed by the radical change in business travel patterns and the shift to technology solutions, changes to commutes and positive attitudes to remote working, as well as the focus on the health and wellbeing of building occupants.
It has to be recognised that these short-term positive impacts cannot replace the fundamental and urgent need to decarbonise all aspects of the real estate industry.
Time again, we’ve seen that failure to take decisive global action can have catastrophic results. We must achieve collective global agreement and action against strategic global threats like climate change. If we do not, we will be contributing to yet more human and economic hardship in the future.
The built environment is a critical driver of the global economy. It is now essential that we recognise the role it plays as part of the solution to negating the worst potential impacts of climate change.