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18 NOV 2021

RICS Scotland: Reflections on COP26

It is no secret that governments across the world have set ambitious targets to achieve net zero. With the built environment making up 39% of carbon emissions globally, it is clear that without real action in our industry, such ambitions will simply not be met. Similarly, nothing can be achieved if it cannot be measured, and our profession is ideally placed to provide the data on embodied and operational carbon across the lifecycle of the built environment, to drive this lasting change.

While the discussions at an industry and practitioner level were insightful and inspiring over the past month, the broader COP26 agreement reached by world leaders on Friday 12 November was widely viewed as insufficient. Indeed, the Prime Minister himself rated the deal as little more than “6/10”. But it is not within these international agreements that real action will be taken; the true driver of change will be industry, and our members have showcased how they intend to lead from the front in this regard.

Our ambitions for COP26 were to build understanding and awareness of the role of surveyors in enabling the sustainability agenda at a high-level, to showcase and promote tangible case studies from members to demonstrate delivery on the ground, and to empower professionals to embed sustainability across the lifecycle of built environment projects. The programme of activity over the past month and set out below delivered on all three of these objectives.

But the hard work starts now. And it’s crucial that this message, and these actions, are disseminated across the wide breadth of the RICS membership and the built environment profession more broadly. The last two weeks have been a positive juncture on the road to ensuring our profession plays a positive role in enabling a just transition to net zero across Scotland, the UK and internationally. We greatly look forward to working with members to continue delivering on this agenda in the future.

RICS at the heart of COP26

A senior RICS delegation, including Interim CEO Richard Collins, President Clement Lau, and Senior Vice President Tina Paillet attended the CBI International Business Dinner on the evening of Thursday 4 November, allowing RICS to network and engage with the international business community to build understanding of the role of the profession in the net zero agenda. This followed a meeting of members in person in Glasgow for the RICS COP26 Member Reception, where members got to discuss the future of the RICS and sustainability with the Interim CEO and President. Scotland Chair Richard Burnett and Vice-Chair Mark Devlin were also in attendance. 

Centrally, RICS is running a series of activity through the World Environment Forum, including a programme of webinars available to view here. RICS is also running the Our Future, Our Planet essay competition for young RICS members on how the industry can deliver net zero by 2050. The closing date for applications is 3 December 2021, and the winners will be announced on 17 January 2022. In the run-up to COP26, RICS also published the first Sustainability Report, analysing the views of thousands of commercial real estate and construction professionals from over 30 countries.

Shining a light on Scotland

As host nation, RICS Scotland was delighted to put in place an extensive programme of activity over COP26, highlighting the key role of the profession in enabling a transition to net zero, and shining a light on the work members are undertaking to make a tangible difference on the ground today. Five engaging events across a range of sectors were organised, with a collective attendance of over 150 individuals, the direct input of six member organisations, and joint activity with the City of Edinburgh Council, Glasgow City Council, University of Glasgow, the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament.

We have also been delighted to share the innovative work of member organisations in the sustainability space through a series of case studies, the contents of which are to be used as ideas for how surveyors can tackle the major issues of the day. They look at the need to move away from a ‘use-dispose’ mentality in commercial property, efforts to educate consumers on ways in which to decarbonise their homes, the ways in which to develop truly net zero buildings, and the move towards a more circular construction sector.

Our participation in the magnificent Space for Architecture, Carbon and the Environment (SpACE) – with support of the Scottish Government and City of Edinburgh Council – enabled us to run a fascinating discussion on the role of commercial property in the net zero transition, alongside Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), TFT, and Lendlease. Discussions focused on trends in the performance of sustainable buildings and the impact on the market, the role of green dilapidations in commercial fitouts, and international efforts to create truly net zero businesses.

We were delighted to present as part of the University of Glasgow’s Built Environment and Net Zero Conference, with Construction Lead Alan Muse setting out the role of International Cost Management Standard 3 (ICMS3) and the suite of products such as the Lifecycle Carbon Assessment Professional Statement and Built Environment Carbon Database, in enabling comparisons across industry, markets and nations to drive innovation and improvements.

Our own Director of Public Affairs and Thought Leadership Ken Creighton chaired the City of Edinburgh Council and Edinburgh Chambers of Commerce’ event on Green Construction and the Built Environment. Ken highlighted the important role of standardisation and measurement in enabling a net zero transition and welcomed Edinburgh’s commitment to ensuring a fairer and more equitable society in the transition. We were also lucky to be able to attend the Edinburgh COP26 Summit, where the scale of the decarbonisation challenge was at the forefront of discussions focussed on the built environment, as well as the themes of collaboration and the need to create a circular built environment economy.

A lunch and learn organised for the week before COP also allowed members to come together virtually to discuss Sustainable Construction: The Circular Economy, with member organisations Balfour Beatty and GLM sharing insight on how innovations such as geopolymer concrete and pre-demolition audits could help decarbonise the construction sector.

UK&I devolved nations at COP26

A second RICS delegation visited COP26 on 11 and 12 November as part of Cities, Regions & Built Environment day. It provided the opportunity to meet with various Government stakeholders in attendance, including the Welsh Government’s Head of Building Safety Funding, the Climate Commissioner for Belfast, and Belfast City Council’s Sustainability Manager, to highlight the role the profession will play in measuring the performance of existing buildings and how owners can improve the experience for end-users.

Events included those looking at the role of buildings in fighting climate change, the need for effective coalitions to win the race to zero emissions, and the global effort to coordinate action. RICS also met with various exhibitors, including member organisations such as Arup, and key sponsors such as the National Grid, Scottish Power, Hitachi, Microsoft and Sky, which echoed our key messaging around the need for the accurate measurement of carbon to enable change.

RICS Northern Ireland also worked with the World Built Environment Forum to organise a webinar on the how a circular built environment can help to avoid the climate catastrophe, which brought together policy makers, academia and industry to discuss the need to extend the lifecycle of materials through recycling and the re-use of materials.

Sustainability is a key tenet of RICS’ activity. Read more about RICS’ work in this space here.

The COP26 activity isn’t over yet! On the morning of Friday 10 December, RICS Scotland will be hosting a Parliamentary roundtable chaired by former Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture Fiona Hyslop MSP, to showcase the work of the profession to Parliamentarians directly. Get in touch with eryan@rics.org if you are interested in attending or contributing.