The Sustainable Built Environment Conference (24 September 2019) organised by Cardiff University and Cynnal Cymru, brought together climate change researchers, built environment professionals, policy experts and government officials to focus on the transition of energy and low carbon policies in practice.
The key message from the conference was that we’re in a state of climate emergency. It’s taken Greta Thumberg, a 16 year old from Sweden, to wake the world up to this issue with constant climate strikes and public speeches calling people to take action.
The Paris Agreement signed in 2016 sought to encourage all 55 member countries of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to plan to limit the increase in temperature to 1.50C above pre-industrial levels by 2030, with the aim of being net zero increase by 2050.
Keith Clarke CBE commented that, on a global scale as the population increases and more people become middle class, more energy will be consumed. The way we’re heading is for an increase in temperature by 40C by 2050. We need to recognise that social equality is a human right, but at the same time there is a need to decarbonise to enable this.
He emphasised that this emergency is no longer about our grandchildren, it affects everyone and it’s happening quickly. So we need to take action. The Future is NOW. We need to do everything possible to ensure less energy is used in buildings and infrastructure as well as taking action to encourage biodiversity.
Keith used the analogy of the ‘Scottish Reel Dance’ where everyone joins hands, moves quickly and do things that you haven’t done before. This is how we need to act FAST. We need to change mindsets, not be afraid to make mistakes and take action.
So what action is being taken by professionals in the built environment?
In Wales, the Wellbeing and Future Generations Act gives us the ambition, permission and legal obligation to improve our social, cultural, environmental and economic wellbeing by taking action in accordance with the sustainable development principles. Dr Eurgain Powell, Change Maker at the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, explained about the 7 wellbeing goals and 5 ways of working enabling us to look at prosperity differently, to ensure we retain a habitable earth for all future generations. The publication ‘Constructing for Future Generations’ sets out how the construction industry must change if it is to deliver a built environment fit for future generations. Failing to adapt is not an option.
Professor Phil Jones, Chair of Architectural Science at Cardiff University commented that there is a disconnect between research and practice. He called for action to be taken and the need for top down pressure from government as well as a bottom up pressure of promoting best practice.
We need to ensure that our new homes are zero carbon and affordable to ensure energy is reduced, balanced and generated. The Welsh Government is encouraging new approaches to meet the shortfall of housing provision and the climate emergency with the Innovative Housing Programme (IHP).
Grasshopper Communications is working with Sero Homes on the development of Parc Hadau, 35 zero carbon homes near Pontardawe in the Neath Valley that has received IHP funding. This development is not just about creating homes, but creating a place where the community and nature work together. The scheme is currently undertaking its pre application consultation prior to submission of outline planning application later in the year. The feedback from residents has been very positive, with one local saying ‘We dream of living in such amazing houses”, preferring to swap their traditional house for a home that will reduce their energy bills and live in an environment that encourages nature to flourish.
We need to create sustainable liveable communities of the future that meet the immediate climate emergency and we at Grasshopper Communications believe that these zero carbon developments could become the norm.
Hannah Dineen, Associate Director at Grasshopper Communications
The conference was part of the Internal Sustainable Built Environment (SBE) Conference that has been running for 18 years.