Are we heading for a climate calamity?

We are on the road to global economic recovery, but are we still heading for a climate calamity?

The coronavirus pandemic has brought the global economy to a standstill, as governments focus on stimulus packages to get things moving, environmentalists fear that post Covid-19 economic recovery is coming at a price. Niklas Höhne, of New Climate Institute, a partner to Climate Action Tracker, said: “Unfortunately, what we’re seeing more of is governments using the pandemic recovery to roll back climate legislation and bail out the fossil fuel industry [1].”

The pandemic has proved that the UK like the rest of the world is capable of transformative change with lockdown measures halting carbon emissions with a daily drop of around 17% compared to the same time last year according to National Geographic [2].

Green recovery pledges are now trending with the UK co-hosting climate event (COP26) alongside the UN in December and Boris Johnson urging other world leaders not to ‘let climate action become another victim of coronavirus [3]  but has the UK bitten off more than it can chew? Take London for example, how does a city with a growing population choked with traffic and packed full of carbon-emitting processes from fossil fuel-generated energy prioritise reaching a net zero goal, whilst tackling a pandemic?

Fiona Harvey has written in a recent article for The Guardian highlighting that “there has been little concrete action, and no clear roadmap on how to meet the goal [4].” The past decade of climate summits in Copenhagen, Bali, Cancun, and Paris have only nudged us towards the limp goal of business as usual until 2050 and the Covid-19 pandemic has arguably bumped climate change further down the agenda, so maybe it’s time we placed our faith in the hands of the technological innovation gods.

The built environment contributes to 40% of the UK’s carbon footprint [5], instead of focussing on profit over people and the planet (how many floors we can cram into an un-ecological tall building?, which uses more energy in every aspect due to its verticality [6]), maybe in this economic recovery whilst we’re building back better we can think about building back greener, maybe it’s time we built back smarter.

At arbnco, our data analytics platform allows businesses to optimise their property portfolios to operate as cost effective, intelligent, smarter buildings. This encompasses our two main focuses: measuring, analysing, and improving energy efficiency and indoor environmental quality, which makes for healthier buildings and occupants, now more important than ever to businesses worldwide.

Building back better (smarter) means retrofitting our buildings, deploying next generation building management systems [7], forecasting, and controlling energy usage to make not only new, but existing buildings fit for the future. A major priority we face to reach the 2050 net zero goal is to decarbonise our existing stock, our software solution, arbn insight, helps building managers to do this by analysing operational and accurate energy consumption data and generating conservation measures for saving energy and reducing carbon.

However, building back smarter no longer just means focusing on buildings and their design. Those who inhibit the building are now at far greater risk and must be a central focus in green recovery. One way to improve the health and wellbeing of building occupants is by measuring indoor environmental quality (IEQ). By installing a distributed network of sensors within a building, problems can be uncovered such as elevated temperatures and lack of ventilation. These issues can be dealt with by updating current operational policies, but the point is that these issues are not visible until they are measured [8]. arbn well, our solution for measuring IEQ, covers two areas of occupant health and wellbeing: measuring IEQ through IoT sensors and perceiving occupant satisfaction through a feedback app. Together, these elements provide smart insights into how occupants feel in a space and highlights interchangeable factors that contribute to their experience in a building.

The pandemic has disrupted life as we know it and as we emerge from (hopefully) the tail end the message is clear, green recovery must stay top of the agenda as we build back better. We must recognise that alongside behavioural change, technological change is instrumental as we work together to achieve the 2050 net zero goal.