12 years to save the planet

December 7, 2018

Being on an island with days basking in unusually warm autumnal air blown from the south, a biting wind from the north and the threat of the first snow of winter reminds us that life is not as balmy as one would like, writes Chris Dobson

The ‘Beast from the East’ was a portent of the future with the usual west/east Jet-stream reversing, sucking ice cold air and snow out ofSiberia and throwing it at us as a result.

Forget those flippant claims years ago that the climate warming ‘benefit’ would deliver weather in the North that would be comparable to the south of France.

No, the opposite is likely with serious flooding, rising sea levels and crazy, unpredictable, weather on the menu. We have 12 years to put the climate warming brakes on. In reality, it means action now.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently delivered its chilling pronouncement – to prevent global temperatures rising over the 1.5 degrees centigrade prescribed maximum, we need action otherwise there will be “rapid, far- reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”. The IPCC report involved more than 6000 scientific references, 91authors and review editors from 40 countries.

Will this mean a radical rethink for the built environment? Will this impact on design? What steps can be taken? And what happens to existing properties across all sectors?

Certainly from a property marketing perspective, it is all about location, access to motorways, car parking ratios, floor-plates and very little about energy efficiency. True, of course there is an energy performance certificate somewhere, but that does not guarantee ‘top marks’.

There could be implications for investors – could there be a shift towards only the best with others left floundering and worth only their weight in carbon?

There is a Mark Carney-driven Task Force onClimate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD),which is chaired by Michael Bloomberg. The relevance to the built environment is explainedby Lizzie Jones, sustainability director at Savills – the FTSE global real estate services providerwhich has just added Newcastle upon Tyne toits UK office network.

Lizzie talks of “latest theories and projections”, which add up to the need for amore integrated role within the property sector, with essential up-skilling of everyone’s roles
to move the sector forwards as a matter of urgency.

“There has to be a better understanding of the built environment’s link with global warming. Its impact is evident now and is increasing. How good it would be if everyone thought first about energy consumption, sustainability measures and the property’s long-term resilience rather than, for example, just car parking,” she says.

“Unless we act quickly, the repercussions will be evident in the next five years. Sustainability and property investment must go hand-in-hand.

At present, there is lack of action within much of the industry. This needs to change with a building’s impact on our environment at the top of the list of criteria in terms of priorities.

“The TCFD is really encouraging as we need more ‘red flag’ mechanisms, so banksand investors understand the impacts on the environment prior to doing their deals, ormaking that investment.”

There are, of course, existing environmental controls. “I am an advocate of the Global RealEstate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB)survey, which is a great way of evaluating property performance across the built environment in order to better inform investmentchoices,” continues Lizzie.

“Building regulations have done us a lot of favours in this country too, but do these go far enough? And how do property owners with existing building stock best prepare for when climate change hits us?

“Advice is required now on how buildings can be climate change resistant. We need to get our house in order, speed up the use of renewables, in fact, get everything ready – air quality, electrical vehicle provision, and think about all relevant amenities. It’s a tall order witha long list but vital that it is done now.”

The most significant risk that organisations face today relates to climate change. Yes, we are at ease when greenhouse gases are mentioned – someone else can deal with that.Yes, rising sea levels and other physical effects will result – but on someone else’s patch. The resulting social consequences? Well, we can pass on that.

Not so. Climate warming is an age-old phenomenon but the carbon kick we are enjoying is accelerating the process. Just weeks ago, a container vessel, the Venta Maersk, one of the world’s largest ice-class vessels designed specifically to operate in cold waters, successfully passed through theNorthern Sea Route (Arctic Ocean), conducting a one-off trial passage.

She left Vladivostok and arrived in SaintPetersburg after 37 days, in the process saving 5000 miles and 15 days in distance and time if she had used the usual Suez Canal route. The voyage went according to plan andwithout specific incidents. The vessel and allsystems aboard performed well in the unfamiliar environment.

The fact that this voyage took place at all underlines the critical situation we are in with little time to put the brakes on.

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Viewpoint: Neil Hart