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02 Dec
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COP21 – Implications for UK construction

The 21st Climate Change Conference is currently being held from 30th November to 11th December 2015 in Paris. The Conference is called COP 21, and is short for The 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The framework was originally adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and led to the 1995 Kyoto Protocol, which legally binds developed countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Conference seeks to produce a new framework, which will replace the Kyoto agreement when it runs out in 2020. The 195 convention signatories (which also includes developing countries) will vote on the text of a new agreement aimed at keeping global warming below an agreed temperature rise.

What is the aim of the Conference?

Negotiators from 195 countries will try to reach a deal within two weeks, aimed at reducing global carbon emissions and keep global warming below 2°C.

US President Barack Obama has said the Conference could be a "turning point" in global efforts to limit future temperature rises and urged negotiators to deliver a purposeful deal, because the "next generation is watching".

Why 2°C?

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), global warming of more than 2°C would have serious consequences, such as an increase in the number of extreme climate events and unpredictable impacts on our climate system. In Copenhagen in 2009, the countries (approximately 185) stated their determination to limit global warming to 2°C between now and 2100.

So, the ultimate aim is to limit warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Since 1880, the average global temperature has already risen by almost 1°C, with approximately 0.6°C occurring in the past three decades.

Will COP21 be successful?

All participating governments are allowed to set out what they believe their ‘Nationally Determined Contributions’ should be, this outlines how they will reduce their emissions to a level they think they can achieve and are  content with.

Clearly, this leaves the contributions open to a wide range of different levels, with some countries being more aspirational than others.

COP15 (2009) which was held in Copenhagen, failed to reach agreement on a ‘universal agreement’ on reducing emission targets, so many commentators are sceptical of COP21 being any different.

David Cameron commented, stating that “Our grandchildren will ask us – 'what was so difficult?'”

Barrack Obama said that this issue was an economic priority and one that's imperative to solve now. He said:

"All of this will be hard. Getting 200 nations to agree on anything is hard. But I'm convinced we're going to get big things done here."

So, the Conference has begun with words of encouragement, even Vladimir Putin has committed to reducing greenhouse gases by 70% until 2030 in his opening speech.

How does this fit into the UK’s construction sector?

Recent government initiatives, which removed the Code for Sustainable Homes environmental assessment method and scrapped the Zero Carbon Standard, that required all new homes to meet the Standard from 2016, doesn’t bode well for overall CO2 emissions reduction in the housebuilding sector. Although, tightening up Building Regulations and general improvements in building standards should contribute to an element of emission reduction.

The Autumn Statement identified a boost to housing building (circa 400,000 affordable homes) and a doubling of the housing budget. With George Osborne stating:

“That’s the biggest house building programme by any government since the 1970s. Almost half of them will be our Starter Homes, sold at 20% off market value to young first time buyers”.

£2.3 billion went to the Environmental Agency for flood defences (although the overall departmental budget fell by 15%). Permanent exemptions were granted to Energy Intensive Industries like steel and chemicals from the cost of environmental tariffs, presumably in an effort to keep their bills down and keep their prices competitive.

In Conclusion

All these factors are good for the UK’s economy, which is an urgent and pressing concern, but makes COP21 a complicated, but interesting, two weeks for Cameron. All in all, it's one to definitely keep an eye on over the coming weeks.

If you've got any questions about COP21, or any of the topics we've touched upon in this article, be sure to join the debate on Twitter.

And if you're looking for advice on how environmental concerns might affect your development plans – don't hesitate to get in touch with our expert team today.

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