Duncan Baker-Brown presenting at COP27

Reduce climate impact now – sustainable construction expert reflects on COP27 experience

University of Brighton’s sustainable construction expert Duncan Baker-Brown reflects on COP27 and the pressing need to decarbonise global construction.

Duncan Baker-Brown attended the climate change conference in Egypt as co-chair of Royal Institute of British Architect’s Climate Task and Finish Group, contributing to debates on measures to decarbonise the built environment and reflecting on the urgent need for action. He highlighted the key role that architects must play, the importance of reducing whole life carbon, as well as discussing retrofitting and technology policy worldwide.

Construction creates an estimated third of overall waste and at least 40% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, with approximately half of the raw materials extracted from the planet each year destined for the world’s built environment. Yet COP27 was only the second of the high-profile international gatherings to discuss the built environment, following its first-time appearance on the agenda at COP26 last year in Glasgow.

On the last day of COP27, Baker-Brown witnessed the UN’s Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction launching a commitment to a ‘Buildings Breakthrough‘, with the UK joining France, Germany and 16 other countries confirming their support – with others set to join. The ‘Buildings Breakthrough’ commitment demands that “near-zero emission and resilient buildings are the new normal by 2030”, providing a joint vision and a rallying point for all countries.

Leading the way on sustainability

As a practising architect and environmental activist, Duncan’s research on sustainable construction informs his lecturing in architecture at University of Brighton, complementing the university’s broader commitment to providing practical responses to global challenges such as tackling climate change and creating sustainable and creative economies.

Researchers at the University of Brighton are playing their part in creating a greener, cleaner future with a diverse range of projects. These include agenda-setting work on the role of hydrogen engines in both the private and road freight sectors, exploring how to create the UK’s first zero-emission port, piloting the world’s first 100% hydrogen fired bricks, and driving change in sustainable fashion.

As a pioneering example of putting principles into practice, Duncan Baker-Brown also created the Brighton Waste House on the university’s City campus – the world’s first permanent building built almost entirely from so-called waste material – in the process diverting 55 tonnes of material that would have contributed to carbon emissions through landfill or incineration.

Waste House built almost entirely from waste materials

Duncan also played a key role in crafting Brighton & Hove’s Circular Economy Routemap published earlier this year, setting out an action plan behind a sustainable green growth strategy for the city to 2035. The University of Brighton is also at the heart of regional plans exploring green retrofits of thousands of local authority houses which will slash both energy bills and carbon emissions, while saving tenants millions of pounds in fuel bills.

Building on COP27 debates

At COP27, Baker-Brown took part in a panel discussion which explored the collaboration between businesses and governments that is needed to create a thriving and resilient buildings sector, capable of delivering for a net zero economy.

He said: “One of the most positive aspects of COP27 was the agreement to deliver a global fund for loss and damage, providing money to cover the existing economic, cultural and social impacts caused by climate changes to benefit some of the most vulnerable people across the world.”

However, it was not all good news. The goal of keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius was described by UK COP26 President Alok Sharma as on “life support”, while UN Climate Chief Simon Stiell warned that current national plans for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 are not enough to stop further potentially devastating global temperature rises.

“It’s clear that we need to reduce our climate impact now. It’s undeniable that buildings are a significant source of emissions and construction design and practice has to change. Collective action is needed to embed carbon targets into regulations, and sustainability into planning and procurement processes. But we must commit to reusing materials that are currently destined for landfill, rather than continuing to plunder the planet’s raw materials”.

Duncan Baker-Brown

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