Why we must act now on net zero

2016 16 10 Breana Wheeler BRE Portrait 1 | BRE Group

says Breana Wheeler, BRE’s Director of US Operations

The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) climate report has not only highlighted that global temperatures are likely to rise above all expectations but stressed how critical it is to meet the 1.5-degree target urgently. This has global repercussions and in the US, even the moderate outcomes will result in significant changes to the areas where the vast majority of Americans live and in the regions where we grow food.

Hitting net zero by 2030 – or even 2050 is viewed as one of the most important things we can do. But what does this mean for organizations and their ESG strategies?

According to a recent report at the University of Oxford’s Net Zero Climate program, at least one-fifth (21%) of the world’s 2,000 largest public companies have committed to meet net zero targets representing sales of nearly $14 trillion.

Many organizations, such as Microsoft, that have made commitments to net zero have used 2030 as the goal post. But 2030 is only eight and a half years away.

If the first step for organizations is becoming carbon neutral, transforming our over reliance on offsetting carbon is also essential. The Net Zero Climate program found that of the 4,000 major private entities globally that have made commitments, only 53 will be able to achieve net zero without the use of carbon offsets – that’s 1.33% of all total commitments. Realistically, there aren’t enough carbon offsets to go around.

Solving this dilemma is a crucial consideration for BRE and why our net zero program BREEAM provides the gold standard of outcomes that can facilitate a tangible improvement in the measurement and management of carbon emissions: building efficiency and onsite renewables.

Along with the huge amount of new construction projects, in a significant number of cases, it is existing buildings that are being assessed, which presents a more significant challenge. It is also why the BREEAM In-Use program is designed to measure these fundamental elements as part of a holistic approach that also takes in environmental performance and climate resilience.

We are listening to our customers and stakeholders to better understand how we can help organizations and asset holders reach net zero.

We are actively working with and supporting the international built environment industry in achieving greater consensus on achieving net zero carbon and our next steps are developing and testing proposals for a new ‘zero whole life carbon’ methodology.

Speaking to The Times of London recently, BRE’s CEO Gillian Charlesworth called for a “coherent and cogent policy direction, backed up with the right resources” by governments to enable the real estate and construction industries to tackle the crisis.

Certainly, in the US, federal government is an essential enabler and the Biden Administration’s target of 50-52% reduction by 2030 is welcome. And with COP26 being held in the UK in November, there’s also an aspiration that others will adopt a more urgent approach. So too is the lens of social equity that is being applied to support a just transition of the economy.

Cities in the US such as Chicago have been leading the way, with many rolling out energy benchmarking ordinances that require the collection and reporting of whole building energy usage. Some like Washington D.C, New York and St. Louis have gone further, bringing in Building Performance Standards that become stricter over time. These are powerful regulatory signals that locally will drive improvement.

For the real estate sector, there is a clear recognition that the industry needs scalable solutions and verification of outcome. This is where investors and the market are really driving the change and, in the US, have been well ahead of the regulation. BREEAM has long been seen by global investors as the gold standard because of the rigorous building science which underpins our standards and the additional confidence in the data that the on-site assessment requirement provides.

The market is at last waking up to the economic risk and starting to price accordingly.

Those who are not measuring and reporting their performance using broadly accepted methodologies will find themselves struggling to get investment and financing.

Those who commit to the transition and act swiftly will benefit from the swell of investment ready to meet those goals.

What we do know is that it will take both the public and private sectors working together to achieve net zero by 2030. And if the IPCC report has made one thing clear, we must act now.

This article first appeared on Planetizen