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How will COP26 energy, transport, and infrastructure pledges impact construction?

COP26 is over, with world leaders from more than 200 counties, alongside 20,000 delegates, having left Glasgow, armed with a host of ambitious pledges and policies as part of the international effort to thwart the burgeoning climate crisis.

Much of the aspiring promises made at this year’s global action on climate change meeting was focused on transport, energy and infrastructure. With a host of promises affecting transport, energy and infrastructure, COP26 is likely to have a significant ripple-effect in the construction industry.

But how?

Zero Emission Vehicles (EVs)

One of the most headline-grabbling pledges in Glasgow was the agreement between 30 countries to work together to make zero emission vehicles the new normal by making them accessible, affordable and sustainable in all regions by 2030 or sooner.

In the construction sector, the shift to low and zero-emission vehicles poses a series of questions, and challenges.

Perhaps the most pressing question is should construction companies be looking at making the switch to EVs now?

The benefits to switching to alternatively fuelled vehicles without delay would of course be beneficial to the environment, thereby bolstering a construction company’s sustainability credentials and ultimately its corporate responsibly reputation.

However, there are several points to consider that are likely to be impeding firms’ transition to EVs. One is that construction operators must review their maximum payload requirements. Electric LVC components, such as batteries, are heavier that those in traditional fuel tanks, thereby limited the vehicles payload capacity. As such, EVs can transport fewer heavy materials per trip compared to petrol or diesel equivalents.

Mileage requirements is, of course, another leading consideration for construction firms. Many electric vehicles have a limited mile range of around 100 miles, which can be considerably less when the vehicle is transporting heavy goods.

As such, a diesel or petrol vehicle could be considered a more practical option with the delivery of heavy payloads covering high mileage trips, thereby hindering construction company’s transition to EVs.

End of coal in sight

Fossil fuel is the single biggest contributor to climate change.

Another of the most high-profile agreements made in Glasgow was more than 40 countries signing up to shift away from fossil fuel. Signatories agreed that coal power will be phased out in the 2030s for richer countries, and in the 2040s for the rest of the world, in a bid to make the transition fair to workers.

Construction sites rely on an abundance of power to fuel production. Consequently, the construction industry has been slow to adopt to new technologies, including renewables.

However, that is beginning to change and the deployment of green technology within the sector is on the rise. As renewable energy becomes more accessible and cost-efficient, the deployment of the likes of solar, wind and hydroelectric energy, have increasingly been adopted by the construction industry.

Though the sector’s reliance on fossil-fuel energy has not disappeared and a complete move from traditional fossil fuel power to greener alternatives in construction is not without its challenges.

Moving to entirely carbon neutral construction operations will require the deployment of sustainably-powered tools, trucks, heating, lighting, air conditioning, heavy machinery – a notorious polluter – and more. This will require significant effort, investment and  will inevitably create disruption.

That said, electrically powered construction machinery is in development and reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of on-site machinery may pave the way for a zero-emission industry.

Despite the practical challenges, in construction, sustainable operational practices are rapidly gaining prestige and importance among consumers and decision-makes alike. Consequently, complying with regulations, policies, pledges and recommendations is vital if construction is going to successfully move with the times.

Rachel McKenzie