I was recently sent the following article by someone in the industry. It’s typical of many I get which try to make out that if only we do certain things everything will be okay. Below you will find facts which show how wrong they are.

The hype

“In the face of growing concerns surrounding climate change, a considerable number of companies, investors, and governing bodies around the world have made commitments to achieve ‘net-zero’ emissions within the next few decades.

“Especially in an industry such as construction, which already generates an estimated 25 per cent of total UK greenhouse gas emissions, making it ‘net-zero’ would require a significant turning point in how the entire industry operates.

“Despite these difficulties, however, environmental sustainability within the industry is slowly becoming more tangible and feasible for many companies – led by the growth of net-zero architecture. 

“Whilst the industry is still a long way from eliminating excess carbon emissions [no kidding], it does appear to be moving in the right direction. From minimising wastage to operations for design innovation to optimise the usage of natural resources, reduced carbon emissions, and more, there is no shortage of solutions that will work towards net-zero construction. 

“With the demand for green buildings already on the rise, and with environmental considerations playing a significant role in the consumer buying decision, however, the benefits for your firm can extend far beyond just its ecological impact.”

[end of the article]

The reality

Of course it’s all true; but only a small part of the picture. Yet we could easily believe from skimming this email and many more articles like it, that everything was okay. In fact we are being lulled into a false sense of security. Many people have already forgotten in Europe that the crisis is getting worse.

For sure the construction industry will continue and globally it will continue to expand because of the many new buildings that are required. But even if all of these were carbon neutral, which they won’t be, the many more existing buildings need to be climate-change-proofed too.

It is right that we should be doing as much as we can to minimise emissions so that the worst effects of climate change will be avoided. But we are wrong to think this is enough.

What’s Germany doing?

Germany is often seen as a leader in climate action. Yet you might be shocked to discover that wind is responsible for only five per cent of energy consumption and solar for two per cent.

And this is before heating and transport get electrified. With these consuming electricity it will effectively double the size of demand. It’s hard to see how this will all come from wind and solar. Carbon capture is a white elephant. Nuclear power is not on the table. Even if it were it could not supply power in time.

Then consider that every country in the world has to go down this route. Most countries in the developing world are still building coal burning power stations.

Energy in the UK

Now let’s look at the UK, also said to be a world leader in climate action, partly because it’s given up burning coal to make electricity.

The country may be burning less coal but it is burning more oil and gas.

The UK government reports on the carbon emissions of the average energy fuel mix. In 2022, these figures were, in kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent per gigajoule of energy, 15.48 for coal, 17.40 for oil, and 9.47 for natural gas.

In other words, burning oil to make electricity yields more greenhouse gas emissions than coal.

And what about the trend for climate emissions?

Speaking of which, those emissions just keep going up…

It seems that no matter what we do, emissions keep rising. The issue must be tackled at global level. Nations must show leadership. Something has to give.

If we kid ourselves that what we’re doing now is going to make climate change endurable, we’re going to be in for a big shock.

What can you do yourself?

You can recognise that you are still one of the few who is taking action. Most people are not. Get outside your bubble. Try to see the whole picture not just part of it.

It’s hard for anybody to do anything other than what they have always done, especially when jobs and livelihoods are at stake. This is why justice is at the heart of the climate change action.

We do need a just transition. Money must go towards training in sustainable jobs for those workers who are most affected – everyone in the fossil fuel industries, everyone in the traditional auto industries, and so on.

Until we redesign cities and livelihoods most of us are going to be trapped in high emission lifestyles.

It’s time to get real.

David Thorpe

David Thorpe is the author of ‘One Planet’ Cities: Sustaining Humanity within Planetary Limits and Director of the One Planet Centre Community Interest Company in the UK. More by David Thorpe

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  1. If you think the governments are serious about Climate change you’re kidding yourself. We really only have 8 yrs left to try and stop what climate scientists already know is a point of no return. Forget the 1.5 deg target that’s failed and we will surpass that in 2024. We’ll be lucky to cap it at 3deg but by then i’d say it will be to late.