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COP26: a young construction professional's view

COP26: a young construction professional's view

Stephen Alexander, Sustainability Consultant at BRE 
I began studying climate change at The University of Copenhagen in 2016, the year after the Paris Agreement. At that time, The Conference of the Parties (COP) seemed like an enigmatic and mysterious event, and I never once thought that I’d ever be able to attend. However, when I finished my studies, I joined the graduate scheme at BRE. I became one of the finalists in the Construction Leadership Council’s (CLC) competition for young construction professionals to co-chair their COP26 session in Glasgow through which I was offered the chance to attend the Green Zone on behalf of BRE and it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.  When I arrived, Glasgow was full of breakout groups around the city hosting their own events and discussing in detail the big climate change issues. I reached the Glasgow Science Centre early to get a feel for the buzz at the event. The programme was set up in two parallel sections: the Blue Zone and the Green Zone. The programmes in both zones covered similar topics, but with the Blue Zone restricted to delegates and observer organisations and the Green Zone open to the public and invited private sector members.    The CLC’s event “Construction: The Built Environment” was centred around the delivery of a net zero future for our industry, focussing on young, upcoming professionals who would lead the way forward. The co-chairs, Andy Mitchell from the CLC and Sarah Linnell, the chosen young professional from Cundall, led the discussion. Sarah was inspiring, putting things into a context that everyone could grasp immediately and she was clear on what needs to be done to move forward. She noted that in 2050 she will “still have 20% of her career left”, illustrating that many young professionals working now, will play a role in reaching the 2050 goals, and that they share a sense of apprehension about running out of time.  Data was also a key talking point from the panellists. Data will increase transparency and assist in communication, and if we are to genuinely hold each other accountable for how the industry performs over the next 29 years, it will be a key factor in demonstrating performance. BRE’s shift towards the digitisation of its tools could play a pivotal role in building performance data.  Glasgow Science Centre was a great venue for the event, with the design perfect for attendees to take in the exhibitions, which were both informative and interactive. The wildflower and garden exhibition were a bold juxtaposition to the urban setting of the Green Zone, bringing the natural environment into COP26.   I was pleased to see Ealing Climate Action Hub exhibiting, as this is a community-led group creating a collaborative effort to drive environmental change in the borough where I live. Community engagement in these movements is still rare, and the onus still falls on the big players to lead the way. The same “carbon literacy” issues that can be seen in many businesses arise within communities across the world. We need both levels of action: the drive from local communities will not save big business from having to make more radical and effective changes.   What was striking when entering the Green Zone was the lack of diversity, even though it was meant to be a global conference. Cross comparisons with best practice from other countries may have been a missed opportunity for generating inspiration outside our immediate industry.   Global collaborative effort is needed. It’s needed between businesses, between disciplines, between governments and industry leads, communities and councils, and between the current and the future leaders. It’s less about teeing up the next generation to succeed in the future, and more about generations working collaboratively, building a better industry together for current and future leaders to hit the ground running and hit the ground now.   While COP26 was a great personal experience, and I thank the CLC for the opportunity to attend, I can’t help but join those who were disappointed in the outcome of the wider event. A real launchpad opportunity may have been missed to create momentum and it could be an uphill battle from here. Let’s get to work.