COP – what has it ever done for us?


Eimear Moloney, Director

Ambitious or influential?

Approaching COP27

Listening to the (sometimes negative) commentary as we approach COP27, it is a good time to remind ourselves of the positives from previous years. It’s easy to throw your eyes up and write COP off as corporate empty promises. But we shouldn’t forget that a lot of what we do, day to day as built environment experts, has been heavily influenced by decisions made at previous COP meetings. Most importantly at COP21.


The 2015 Paris COP21 was probably the most influential COP there has ever been. COP21 was where the Paris Agreement was formed. The Agreement legally binds signatory nations, of which the UK is one, to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius. The Agreement required signatories to submit plans on how they intend to contribute to this through what is known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

Part of the UK’s NDC includes a 100% reduction of carbon emissions by 2050. Therefore making the UK a Net Zero Carbon country by this time.

One of the ways the UK is achieving this is to remove its reliance on fossil fuels. But a simple swap from fossil fuels to green electricity is not possible. Even if the UK meets all its renewable production targets there will only be enough renewable electricity to provide energy to 40% of existing buildings. However, if all existing buildings reduce their energy consumption by 60%, then we will be in with a good chance of meeting this Net Zero Carbon deadline, and hence limiting the global temperature rise.

Paris Proof Targets

These are what we call Science Base Targets (SBTs) or sometimes Paris Proof Targets. Many of us now use them on a daily basis. For instance, in offices, we aim for the following (ref. UKGBC 2020 guidelines)

What it can do for us

So, a decision made at COP influenced government policy, which influenced industry guidelines which, in turn, we implement every day. This shows us the huge influence that COP can have on how we undertake improvements to building performance to reduce their negative impact on the environment. Let’s push those in power to ensure that COP27 is as ambitious and influential as COP21.