IPCC Report – a Code Red for Humanity and the Built Environment

In August this year, the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was released. The report highlights that, “it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, oceans and land”, and continues to explain that unless there are drastic cuts in carbon emissions in the short-term, the world will fail to limit temperature increases to below both the 2C and 1.5C targets outlined as part of the Paris Agreement in 2015.  

The report also confirms that the past five years have been the hottest on record since 1850 and that the global surface temperature was nearly 1.1C higher in the last decade than between 1850-1900. This is the legacy of the Anthropocene, and it is these warmer temperatures that lead to heavier rains and make regions susceptible to wildfires.    

UN Secretary-General António Guterres reflected, “the IPCC Working Group 1 Report is a code red for humanity…if we combine forces now, we can avert climate catastrophe. But, as the report makes clear, there is no time for delay and no room for excuses. I count on government leaders and all stakeholders to ensure COP26 is a success.”  

Who is the IPCC and what is the significance of its reports?

The IPCC is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change. Bringing together experts from around 195 countries, and involving thousands of contributors from around the global scientific community. The body is commissioned by governments to help them make smart choices for their nations that will bring about a green recovery and ultimately, avert a Climate Emergency. 

The IPCC reports have always been a reality check for governments, companies and individuals. Presenting a collective view on the science and highlighting irrefutable evidence of climate change.  

But what does the publishing of the latest IPCC report mean for businesses, designers and individuals? Well, on one level, it’s a strong call to action – to act now. There is no time to procrastinate when it comes to the climate and protecting the planet for future generations. We need to make decisions today that will not just ‘do less bad’, but that will actually do good and restore what we’ve damaged.  

The built environment as a key stakeholder

According to the World Green Building Council, the built environment and the construction industry is connected to around 39% of global carbon emissions.1 The immediate concern is therefore to reduce that impact, and that in itself would certainly be a significant improvement. But it doesn’t, and shouldn’t, stop at ‘limiting the industry’s impact’ – the built environment has the potential to make a significant contribution to a green recovery should it change at scale.  

Reducing carbon emissions in the built environment  

A key challenge for the built environment will be reducing greenhouse gases through tackling carbon emissions – whether that’s related to powering a building, or the materials used to create our cities.   

A fair amount of progress has already been made on increasing the energy efficiency of buildings, and ensuring that renewable sources are used. However, it is only now that embodied carbon is getting the attention it deserves, as the design community looks at the significant carbon impact of the materials used in their projects. 

Reading the IPCC reports and watching the impact of climate change on the news can feel daunting. However, here are some simple steps that can be taken to lower the embodied carbon footprint of your interiors projects today. 

windmill sunrise

Make embodied carbon a key criteria for your project

The materials you choose to use can significantly impact the carbon footprint of your project. By making the carbon footprint a key consideration alongside design, functionality and circularity, you are in a position to make a difference.  

Measure the embodied carbon footprint of your project

You cannot manage what you cannot measure, and this is true if you are looking to reduce the carbon footprint of your project. Utilise embodied carbon calculators, such as EC3 or equivalents, to give you the data to make the sustainable choice.   

Ask manufacturers to disclose the carbon footprint of their products

Request details from manufacturers on the carbon footprint of their products and ask them to talk you through their low carbon options. One of the simplest ways to measure the true carbon impact of a product, is through an Environmental Product Declaration. You can ask a manufacturer to share these with you in relation to a product or material that you are working with. 

Choose products with high levels of recycled and bio-based content 

One way to reduce the carbon footprint of a project is to look for materials that have a high level of recycled or bio-based content. This reduces the carbon footprint by helping to turn off the tap on the use of virgin petrochemicals 

Consider reusing existing products and materials

Also consider if the existing products or materials could be reused and have a second life. For example, the Fokker 7|8 building at the Anthony Fokker Business Park in the Netherlands is set up so that the steel components can be reused. At Interface, our Interface ReEntry program offers the opportunity to create more value from used flooring, whether that’s through re-use, recycling or repurposing a product, or where completely necessary, recovering the energy through a waste to energy facility. 

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3 responses to “IPCC Report – a Code Red for Humanity and the Built Environment”

  1. John Marsh says:

    Could I ask where you’d like to measure the overshoot the1.5C of warming? here, the Sahara, the tropics, South America, the far east, Antarctica, summer, winter, Monday or Wednesday at night or during the day? The Earths temperature changes constantly, everywhere around the globe every second of every day. Please don’t fall for this. It’s silly to think mankind has any control of the planets temperature to set it just so. The Earth is a wobbling rock rotating around a star, which fluctuates in temperature in cycles. throwing out different amounts of solar radiation and heat which affects the earths climate. Also the pull of the moon, affects the seasons and volcanic effects on the earths crust. Which releases gasses into the atmosphere. So please don’t hitch all your science and polices on CO2 a 0.04% minor atmospheric gas of which 95% is natural and essential to all life on earth as all plant life need it, and in return so do we. Sorry but some times it had to be said.

  2. Cornelis G. Hakkens says:

    Hi John,
    So, it’s difficult to measure GHG and their effects? Let’s ignore it? Let nature do it’s own adjustments? I would philosophically agree… but for the fact that Human activity directly interferes with natures capability day in, day out… And at such a scale that even if we captured all of the CO2 we could not force it into beneficial use for mankind… There is a significant excedent. And what about methane and SF6 the most powerful of GHG at 23000 times more damaging than CO2? Albeit difficult to measure, does not mean we have to give up… Science, health, engineering measure solids, gasses and other substances that change in their state, size and weight 24/7 and then some. Are they always precise? Probably not…but maybe they are precise enough to purpose. Turn a blind eye and let our grandchildren clean it up? Why is it that we only now realise the importance AND urgency… Who knew… since when? Could we have acted earlier? Would it have been easier?
    What we see today, makes me happy and sad.. Sad that we took so long, sad that I will not see the world go back to a healthier environment, considerably less smog, pollution, respiratory problems, unnecessary deaths…blue skies, and a more stable climate… Happy because I see around the world scientists engage, youngsters taking the baton and going for it. Talking does not make problems go away… action could… and where we are today, nearly any action is better than sitting back. I hope you and the other readers understand that I may feel that this also has to be said. Politely yours,

    • John Marsh says:

      Ok a lot of words, but no actual answer. The question was simple, where, when and what time would you like to measure this ‘destructive’ 1.5 degree temperature rise? As it appears to me there is no ideal temperature anywhere on this planet or any other in the solar system which also have fluctuating temperatures. The earth has been cooler and hotter than it is now and its still here. We are still exiting a mini ice age and are due another cold period. Cold would be very bad for the earth as nothing would grow. Warm good, plants love warm and wet. Also they soak up more CO2.

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