For all its flaws, COP28 still gives us a route to a greener future

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As COP28 drew to a close, it gave those attending or observing from around the world the chance to reflect on the global commitments towards building a greener future.As COP28 drew to a close, it gave those attending or observing from around the world the chance to reflect on the global commitments towards building a greener future. The UAE played host to two weeks of debate over climate change as COP28 recently rolled into town. While some questioned this region’s suitability – it being a centre of the fossil fuel industry – perhaps there is an argument to be made that this is exactly where you should hold it – to bring the issues into sharp relief.

In the quest for sustainable urban development, the global community is making significant inroads through international collaborations and agreements. One of the most significant takeaways from the fortnight was the historic agreement by nearly 200 countries to transition away from fossil fuels.

While a complete ‘phase-out’ was not explicitly called for, the commitment from over 60 countries to reduce cooling-related emissions and the UAE Banks Federation’s pledge of $270 billion in sustainable finance demonstrated tangible commitment. Incredibly this is first time such an agreement has been reached in 28 years of international climate negotiations, surely a cause for celebration.

Sandra Ruiz de Azua

In terms of the biggest pacts and agreements around cities and urbanisation, Sandra Ruiz de Azua Associate Director / Sustainability Lead design studio Zebra, (who have a strong presence in the region), was impressed with the contents of the second Ministerial Meeting on Urbanization and Climate Change involving Ministers of Housing, Urban Development, Environment and Finance.

This session addressed problems and solutions to help city officials make better investment decisions. Collaboration at local, national and international levels was cited as a means to encourage evidence-based learning and innovative governance models. Working on nature-based solutions and circular-economy strategies with local communities, meanwhile, will help municipal officials to deliver on climate action.

Sandra noted the relevance of the Buildings Breakthrough launch by the Governments of France and Morocco, together with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). This will see countries joining forces to accelerate the transformation of the sector – which accounts for over a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions – with a view to making near-zero emissions and climate resilient buildings the new normal by 2030.

The Buildings Breakthrough is part of the Breakthrough Agenda, which provides a framework for countries, businesses, and other interested parties to strengthen their commitments in key emitting sectors. This is by a coalition of leading public, private and public-private global initiatives.

Gary Elliott, Chief Executive at Elliott Wood Partnership, taking to LinkedIn to post his thoughts, was pleased that the UK was among the nations which signed the Buildings Breakthrough, on ‘Buildings Day’ of COP 28 on 6 December 2023. But, he says, “on the same day, there was another announcement Green Building Council (UKGBC) released a progress — or lack of progress — report on their Net Zero Whole Life Carbon Road Map, revealing how off-track the UK built environment industry is in meeting national net zero targets. As engineers, we design and innovate the foundation of the built environment, we have a critical role to play and must be proactive in enabling a lower-carbon, healthy and equitable society.” He cited a handful of actions including adopting circular economy principles to improve whole life carbon performance and resource usage and addressing embodied carbon in your structures.

Sandra Ruiz de Azua also flagged the session organised by the Economist entitled ‘Building cities of tomorrow, today: mitigating the risks and unlocking opportunities for sustainable development, “To me the highlight of the conversation was the much needed synergy between the public and private sector. Private sector is the key driver of change, and public entities create the frameworks.

Russell Hunter

“Many times it is only bigger corporations that have access to conversations with the public sector, but SMEs represent about 90 percent of businesses and more than 50 percent of employment worldwide. When SMEs have access to platforms that allow them to connect and influence the public sector, huge things could be achieved.” The session on Dubai Conscious Building Initiative: Towards Net Zero she added, was also interesting as it “addressed the private-public relationship, which was something in common with the talks in the first panel I attended.”

Russell Hunter, Principal at Chapmanbdsp added that the COP 28 conference provided a platform for the worlds of business, science and tech come together, alongside governments and public sector bodies to take a truly holistic view of climate change. He says, “The solutions are as multifaceted as the challenge, which is why a forum that can accommodate an expanse of discussions across bio-diversity, policies on energy, investment into renewables, commitment to reducing emission and carbon production, all in one place is vital in order to find solutions to these complex issues.”

In summary, whatever you think about COP28, it is undoubtedly a pivotal chapter in the story of creating sustainable and resilient cities going forward. There are positives to be taken in terms of public private partnerships and financial commitments which set the stage for a greener and more sustainable future. The Buildings Breakthrough and other initiatives signal a commitment to transformative change but what is really needed is meaningful collaboration between governments, commerce and other stakeholders in society to make this a reality after the recent conversations in the UAE.