A message from Ecobuild

It’s not often your day starts with Bianca Jagger talking about the intimate connection between environmental and humanitarian crises and ends with a discussion on the finer points of Display Energy Certificates. But this was Ecobuild at London’s ExCeL yesterday and the scope of the event is sweeping.

The economy may be languishing and the construction sector battered but you wouldn’t know it looking at the huge halls, filled with 1,300 exhibitors and browsing the programme of seminars, lectures conference sessions and demonstrations.

Of course, the news earlier this week that Interbuild (rebranded Built Environment Solutions & Technologies) has been cancelled this year tells a slightly different story. For many construction sector firms sustainability may be the one bright spot in an uncertain landscape.

Never underestimate the power of celebrity – it was standing room only for Jagger’s talk. Those who had not heard her before would have been impressed by her quiet, persuasive delivery. Although best known for her work on human rights and social justice, she clearly knows her way around the science and politics of climate change.

Explaining why she was speaking at Ecobuild, Jagger argued that the problems caused by the failure of financial systems, mass population movement and changing climate are interrelated – economic and environmental crises are symptoms of the same problem. She said that, because of plentiful supplies of energy and building materials and a drive towards mass production, buildings had lost their climate and regional variations. The result? Global architectural uniformity and buildings with “ever shorter useful lives”.

In a political passage she said that David Cameron has “reneged on promises to make his Government the greenest ever.” She said there is a political bias against renewable technologies but the costs (almost entirely for technology) will fall. Even if it costs 3% of global GDP (the upper end of estimates) to rebuild economies around low carbon, it pales into insignificance against the cost of doing nothing.

In a cogently argued but heartfelt speech she finished with a simple question: “We are now entering the twilight of the fossil fuel age. We need to think in terms of localised societies. Are we ready to change the way we live?”

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The climate and energy secretary Chris Huhne may be facing flak over his review of the feed-in tariff and the lack of detail for the Green Deal but in a speech to CentreForum (http://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/news/ch_speech/ch_speech.aspx) , also delivered yesterday, he seemed to share Bianca Jagger’s analysis. “It would be crazy not to prepare for a low carbon future,” he said.