By Hywel Lloyd, ABC’s Government Engagement Lead

With the recent close of COP26, the UN’s flagship two-week climate change conference in Glasgow, following shortly after the ABC’s COP Gloucestershire summit and the COP Cymru event series in Wales, we thought it was time to look back on our experiences of all three events, where they have succeeded and where we go from here.

Expectation management

The three conferences we have attended in the past month, across England, Scotland and Wales, really brought home how we require coordinated action at every level – local, national and global – to mount an effective response against climate change.

This began with the ABC’s COP Gloucestershire event in Berkeley in October, convening regional leaders from the public and private sectors, before COP Cymru provided us with the opportunity to participate in discussions about the national pathway to net zero in Wales.

Finally, of course, COP26 brought together world leaders to agree a new global roadmap for climate change mitigation. When I arrived in Glasgow, however, the feeling was not one of optimism. Much more so than the other two events, the mood was tense. The UK Government had been careful to manage expectations and emphasise the sheer size of the task.

Arguably the atmosphere at the conference’s close was even more downbeat. An impasse over the text of the official communiqué – specifically, about what commitments all parties would sign up to in terms of reducing coal consumption – necessitated an extension to negotiations. Even then, to the dismay of many, delegates could ultimately only reach a commitment to ‘phase down’, rather than ‘phase out’, coal.

That leaves us with a huge amount to do to achieve the target of limiting man-made temperature rises to 1.5C, and a vanishingly small window in which to do it.

The good news

However, we should not lose sight of some of the very real progress made during the intervening two weeks. Some of the optimism of the COP Gloucestershire and COP Cymru conferences remains well-founded.

Government delegates did make several huge commitments, including on ending and then reversing deforestation and to cutting methane emissions by 30% this decade, with signatories including some of the biggest polluters.

Meanwhile, the reluctance of certain, more heavily fossil-fuel-reliant economies to commit to a fully fledged phase-out of coal power underlines what we at the ABC have long maintained: if certain sectors or parts of the global economy are going to be laggards in reaching net-zero, the built environment needs to pick up the slack and become a net contributor of green energy.

It was great to see this issue treated with the seriousness it deserves, in the shape of COP26 devoting a whole day to the Built Environment. But, as Dr Michael Keith from the Future Cities Network noted, this was long overdue. As Dr Keith says, there is “a two-way street, an interplay between the cities of the future and the way the climate crisis plays out”.

We also had constructive conversations to this end at our panel on 2 November, bringing together experts from across the industry to discuss how can smart, flexible buildings help us reach net zero. While the attention may have been on the world leaders, as important a part of COP is bringing together those industries who will actually end up doing the work to reach net zero, and it was an invaluable opportunity to be able to do so, albeit virtually.

Next steps

So, we have a final communique, and two weeks of global industry coming together to discuss the problems we will need to solve. We can take solace that, in the UK at least, there is a real consensus on the urgency of the issue across the political spectrum and the home nations – as exemplified by our events in England, Scotland and Wales. But, and this is unlikely to be the last time you hear this, there is still a long, long way to go.

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