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How can buildings be made more efficient in combatting carbon emissions?

11 February 2016

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Reported by Adele Julier, NERC-Funded CSaP Policy Intern (January 2016 - April 2016)

In the second of the 2016 seminar series, ‘Bending the Curve on Climate’ we heard from Simon Sharpe (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) and Professor Ian Leslie (Cambridge Computer Laboratory) on how the risks of climate change are assessed, and how buildings could be made more efficient in combatting carbon emissions.

For the write-up of the first seminar in the series, click here: How has Paris 2015 changed the landscape and rhetoric surrounding climate change?

Simon Sharpe started the seminar by outlining that although climate change is a very real and present threat, many people, when asked what they think of it reply only that they are ‘somewhat worried’. He spoke of how the report ‘Climate Change, A Risk Assessment’ had set out to address this by challenging the way climate statistics are presented.

Instead of focussing on projections, the authors of the report took a risk-assessment approach, examining the likelihood of worst-case scenarios. Simon explained that this is helpful when communicating with policy makers, as it allows the risks to be laid out more clearly, for instance, as ‘once every x-years’ for the occurrence of extreme events, or metres of sea level rise that could be withstood before it would become economically or politically unfeasible to maintain a city.

Ian Leslie argued that building design and emissions were incredibly important on an institutional and financial level. The William Gates building, for example, was designed to regulate its temperature using heat generated by computers and heat-absorbing radiators. However, Ian went on to explain that even the ‘smartest’ buildings are fallible and may require intelligent management as, even though it was well designed, it still faced many teething troubles.

Charles Kennel rounded off the session by describing the University of California’s ambitious plan to be carbon neutral by 2025, and its commitment to being world- and community-leading in its approach to reducing emissions. He expressed the view that every institution should ask itself ‘what should we do?’.

The climate seminar series is hosted by Christ's College Cambridge. If you would like to sign up to other seminars in this series, please click here.

(Banner image by Mirai Takahashi via Flickr)

Professor Charlie Kennel

University of California San Diego

Professor Ian Leslie

Information Services (UIS), University of Cambridge

Simon Sharpe

Cabinet Office