COP26 Summit – 01-14 November 2021

November 22, 2021

What was COP26 all about?

COP26 was the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The ‘Parties’ are the 197 countries that have signed up to the climate change convention, and the ‘Conference’ is their annual meeting. This is the 26th time they’ve come together.

This is the first time this summit has taken place in the UK. This was a significant event as it brought together world governments and other key stakeholders to make decisions about how best to tackle the climate crisis, with a key aim to stop the world’s temperature from going above 1.5C and staying below 2.0 degrees celsius, as committed to in the 2015 Paris Agreement, and avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

This means that all of us will be affected by the promises that governments have agreed to at COP26, as they are then legislated and translated into actions at a national level. UK leaders have already put climate change targets into law, committing the country to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. With Scotland looking to reach this by 2045, Northern Ireland are also striving to meet these dates.

What was agreed at the Glasgow climate conference, and what does it mean for the plumbing and heating industry?

Cutting carbon emissions and stopping the planet temperature above 2.0C is crucial for us all and is relevant for every individual and every business across the globe, including the UK.  22% of carbon emissions in the UK comes from our homes with 15% of this from heating our homes. By switching our reliance on coal and oil-fired power stations to renewables like wind and solar, the decarbonisation of the electricity grid is already well under way. However, to successfully implement other solutions, like cutting emissions from our cars and homes, the government will need businesses and individuals to actively participate and will need to support this switch.

This will impact our industry on looking at the installation of alternative heating system technologies, such as heat pumps and hydrogen gas boilers playing a significant part in reducing carbon emissions and meeting government targets.  Switching to these technologies will include training the current and future workforces on how to install and advise customers on what system works most energy efficient for them in a very custom-made way – one size will not fit all.

The radical shift away from fossil fuels will include available loans and grants for householders and re-training schemes for the supply chain to develop and install these new technology systems. More details around planning and investments will be discussed on a UK and devolved administration level with greater details being agreed in the coming months and years, but time is of the essence as the planet is warming year on year.

The Glasgow Climate Pact, a new global agreement was established at the COP26 summit. It aims to set out the strategy and policy to reduce the worst impacts of climate change - but some leaders and campaigners say it does not go far enough. It will also look to set the global agenda on climate change over the next decade.  Greater details on what was agreed at COP26 can be found here.

SNIPEF is a member of engineering services alliance, Actuate UK, a group of industry experts calling for industry and government collaboration on the challenge of retrofitting and decarbonising the UK’s existing buildings. Speaking on behalf of Actuate UK at the Construction Leadership Council’s COP26 session (11 November 2021), Michelle Agha-Hossein CEng MCIBSE, Building Performance and Soft Landings Lead at Building Services Research and Information Association (BSRIA) said: “The UK government has acknowledged that the built environment will need to be almost completely decarbonised by 2050, and that achieving this must be through a mix of energy efficiency measures and a transition to low carbon technologies.

Buildings in the UK account for 22% of total greenhouse gas emissions; 17% of which result primarily from the use of fossil fuels for space heating and hot water production.  Therefore, the priority is decarbonising our existing stock and retrofitting around 28 million homes.

Michelle, a chartered engineer herself, stressed the importance of the sector to solving the retrofit challenge and further commented “Retrofitting will not only have environmental benefits but also social gains as we must ensure decarbonising buildings will optimise occupant safety, health and comfort.  This is where building services engineers will play a pivotal role.” And she added:

“There will be challenges, ranging from financial barriers, skill gaps, and need for a cultural change in the way we design, deliver, and use our buildings. But we are making progress to address these. Actuate UK is a bridge between policy makers, who set targets, and professional engineers who strive to deliver those targets.”

Actuate UK is currently mapping the green skills needed to support retrofit and net zero agendas, with two of its members (BESA and FETA/HPA) already developing and delivering courses on new heating technologies.

The session can be viewed on the COP26 YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/hk5Lp1HT_r8

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