COP28: A Sustainability SIG perspective 


  • Sustainability

30 November 2023


By Toby Morgan, Chair of Sustainability SIG & Senior Manager, Built Environment, The Climate Group 

Leading corporates, government officials and policy makers will gather this month for the 28th edition of the conference of the parties (COP28) in the United Arab Emirates. This year’s edition takes place off the back of another year of extreme climate events; floods, wildfires and extreme temperatures affecting every area of the world.    

COP 28 will be a key moment in climate negotiations and a chance to take stock and examine what progress has been made towards the Paris Agreement targets. So far, the news is not looking positive, with global emissions still rising, with a 1.3% increase between 2021 and 2022.   

While these gatherings are always a challenge to bring together contrasting viewpoints and different countries’ positions about how much responsibility to take for the challenge ahead, this year’s may prove even more difficult. Negotiations are being held in a petrostate conscious of the need to transform its economy. However, with this year's COP President being the CEO of Abu Dhabi’s National Oil Company, news all over the world has reflected concerns that the COP process has been hijacked by the fossil fuel lobby and its supportive governments.  

This despite the science continuing to demand action - two weeks ago (14th November) UN Scientists released a report stating that the world is on course for warming between 2.5 and 2.9 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels unless radical action is undertaken to reduce emissions.  

One of the key areas which is still off track is building emissions. Buildings are responsible for almost 40% global energy-related carbon emissions and 50% of all extracted materials. In 2021, 79 countries had building energy codes which are either mandatory for at least part of the building stock or have a voluntary component. Yet only 26% of countries had mandatory codes for the entire buildings sector.  

At COP26 in November 2021, 45 world leaders, whose governments collectively represent over 70% of global GDP, launched the Breakthrough Agenda, aiming at strengthening international collaboration on decarbonizing high-emitting sectors (Transport, Power, Hydrogen, Steel, and Agriculture) and making clean technologies and sustainable solutions the most affordable, accessible and attractive option in all regions by 2030. Despite the buildings sector being a major contributor to emissions, a Buildings Breakthrough was not part of this Breakthrough Agenda.  

However, this has now been addressed and the Buildings Breakthrough target – “near-zero emission and resilient buildings are the new normal by 2030” – is co-led by France and the Kingdom of Morocco under the umbrella of the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (GlobalABC). This is where the role of facilities managers can really engage on the building decarbonisation agenda.   

Facilities managers play a pivotal role in the critical and timely endeavour of building decarbonisation, a key component in the global effort to combat climate change. As stewards of the built environment, these professionals are tasked with overseeing the operational aspects of structures, making them integral to the implementation of sustainable practices.  

One of the primary responsibilities of facilities managers is optimising energy efficiency within buildings. They strategise and implement initiatives such as upgrading insulation, installing energy-efficient lighting, and integrating smart building technologies to reduce carbon emissions. Additionally, facilities managers are instrumental in the adoption of renewable energy sources, like solar panels or geothermal systems, to power buildings, further mitigating the environmental impact.  

Decarbonisation often involves retrofitting existing structures, a process where facilities managers excel. They coordinate and execute retrofit projects, ensuring that the building's carbon footprint is minimised through the integration of eco-friendly materials and advanced technologies. Moreover, facilities managers liaise with stakeholders, including tenants and contractors, to foster a collaborative approach to sustainable building practices.  

In summary, facilities managers serve as catalysts for building decarbonisation, employing their expertise to transform structures into environmentally responsible entities. Through their leadership, these professionals contribute significantly to the global mission of achieving a more sustainable and resilient built environment