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COP26 Day 11 – Cities, Regions & Built Environment

Today is the final themed day of the COP26 Presidency Programme before Closing Statements begin on 12th November. The days events will focus on Cities, Regions and Built Environment.

Accelerated action on the built environment sector, driven by subnational leaders, is vital both for emissions mitigation and for supporting resilient communities.

Events on Cities, Regions and Built Environment Day will bring together national, regional and city level leaders, alongside the private sector, to deliver deep collaboration that can accelerate climate action over the next decade.

The Headline event of the Presidency Programme, ‘Building a Better World Together: Accelerating Deep Collaboration for Built Environment Climate Action’ will bring together national governments, cities, regions and the private sector to build deep collaboration for built environment climate action.

Other events through the day ‘Climate Leadership of Subnational Governments in the UK beyond’ and ‘Ministers and Mayors on Buildings as a Critical Climate Solution’ will focus on uniting behind the urgency for action with one voice  and sharing experience to learn from one another – to deliver and enable a zero emission, efficient and resilient built environment. The former event will showcase the Under2Coalition High Ambition to keep warming within 1.5oC and will feature key Coalition members, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and outstanding international members, highlighting the ambition and actions their Regional Governments are taking.

The North East is a diverse region, with a combination of coastal, rural and urban cities, all with their own built environment challenges.  In the recent Net Zero in the North East: Regional Transitional Impacts report by the Department for Business, Energy and Industry (BEIS), the publication considered the implications of making buildings more energy efficient in the region.

‘There are two key issues around achieving decarbonisation in this sector: the energy efficiency of buildings, and how to switch to zero carbon heating. In terms of domestic (household) emissions, the North East produces the second highest domestic CO2 per capita of all English regions at 1.51 tonnes.’

net-zero-north-east-final-report.pdf (publishing.service.gov.uk)

COP26 offers an opportunity to ensure a global and just transition to a sustainable and resilient built environment. National and subnational governments, as well as the private sector, must work together to deliver the Paris Agreement goals.

Within the North East, NEECCo has two planning groups to consider these challenges and how we can work together as a cross sector coalition within the region to reach net zero targets in a just transition.

Our Built Environment Group, led by Tim Bailey at Constructing Excellence North East (CENE) currently focusses on the specific challenges and resources we need to create an efficient and resilient built environment.

Constructing Excellence in the North East is the regional partner to Constructing Excellence – the single organisation charged with driving the change agenda in construction, housing and regeneration. In 2020 they officially launched the One Voice Construction Strategy which aims to build a successful, sustainable and inclusive construction industry, equipped with the people and technology to deliver a carbon neutral environment by 20250. You can learn more about CENE One Voice here

NEECCo’s Retrofit Group, led by Brian Robson at Northern Housing Consortium focusses on how we can adapt our existing environment, specifically housing to be more energy efficient with a renewable energy infrastructure in place that is cost effective to supply and maintain.

The Northern Housing Consortium represents the views of housing organisations in the North of England, bringing members together to share ideas and representing their interests, ensuring they’re heard at a regional and national government level.

Turning our focus to housing organisations within the North East, Thirteen, landlord and housing developer are building eco-friendly homes to test green technology. You can read more in their blog here.

Your Homes Newcastle are working in collaboration with Newcastle City Council to build on brownfield sites, and to replace old, inefficient buildings with new, energy efficient ones on the same site.

Many local authorities are playing their part to encourage green thinking within built environments. Built Environment is a category in the County Durham Environment Awards with lots of winners showcasing buildings which add to the local environment. County Durham Environment Awards (countydurhampartnership.co.uk)

Figuring out the best way to transition cities and built environments into net zero, efficient communities requires research and that’s where our North East universities are leading the way once again.

Newcastle University has developed the Urban Observatory, which gives access to the largest set of publicly available real time urban data in the UK. Data is refreshed minute by minute in their data portal from sensors around the city and includes solar radiation, wind direction, sound, humidity and air pollution/cleanliness.

Urban Observatory – the largest set of publicly available real time urban data in the UK

Newcastle University is also working alongside the University of the West of England and Translating Nature to develop the ALICE prototype. Funded by UK Research and Innovation, Horizon 2020 and the EU’s Innovation Awards, it brings together several ground breaking threads of bio-digital research. Together it creates a living, breathing, energy-generating microbial system that can simultaneously supply power to your home and talk to you through augmented reality to tell you how productive and ‘happy’ it is. These ‘Living bricks’ can generate energy in the home and have the potential to wean humanity off fossil fuels.

Living bricks can generate energy in the home and wean humanity off fossil fuels | Newcastle University – School of Architecture, Planning & Landscape – Newcastle University (ncl.ac.uk)

Creating an environmentally friendly built environment also requires a reliable infrastructure and the means to travel within that environment in a carbon free way.

Implementing transport plans includes the consideration of infrastructure, particularly considering the need to deal with changes in weather causing floods, heavy snow and strong winds. Vital national infrastructure assets include road and railway slopes, flood protection structures and pipeline bedding. The infrastructure is fundamental to our economy and society, but currently failure of these assets is commonplace. Whilst creating a carbon neutral future infrastructure, it also needs to be economical and reliable. Climate change is a factor driving future change and the ACHILLES Programme, researched by Newcastle University amongst others will look at how to tackle these infrastructure problems whilst considering climate change.

How Climate Change Affects Vital National Infrastructure | NCL

Turning our attention to local businesses, many organisations are doing their bit to consider environmental impacts and carbon emissions within their towns and cities.

Thirteen have their own ecology/environmental centre which has a focus on biodiversity within built environment alongside sustainability.

Bees at Thirteen’s environmental centre – YouTube

And Sage Gateshead are committed to reducing their emissions and inspiring their colleagues, musicians and visitors to do the same, as you can see in their video below.

How can you get involved?

There are so many things you can do as a business or individual to support the environmental sustainability and net zero transition within the North East.

If you have an urban space that can support biodiversity through a pollinator park or rewilding project, Climate Action North can help you on this journey.

If you want to learn more, Build Better Now hosted a number of events during COP26 with a focus on Built Environment, including ‘Designing a green and resilient built environmentwhat do we need to do now and in the future?’ you can register your place and watch the sessions on demand here.

Events – COP26 Built Environment Virtual Pavilion (buildbetternow.co)

You can join Constructing Excellence North East Membership – CENE

You can join Northern Housing Consortium Membership | Northern Housing Consortium (northern-consortium.org.uk)

And of course, you can join NEECCo! Help us work together in a collective aim to make the North East England’s Greenest Region.