COP26 inspiring us all to reduce carbon emissions

COP26 has drawn attention to the need for us all to lower our carbon emissions. The United Nations environment programme1 reports, “that new national climate pledges combined with other mitigation measures put the world on track for a global temperature rise of 2.7°C by the end of the century”. But goes on to say that if the current pledges are effective then that figure could be closer to 2.2°C. This highlights that thus far, as a world, we haven’t managed the speed of implementation to get us to the original 1.5°C, which was the Paris climate agreement figure. One single magic bullet will not reverse the situation. A combination of mitigation, to reduce, or better still eliminate, CO2 emissions and adaption to the changes that are occurring are clearly required.

What can we do to mitigate our emissions?

Being aware of our energy use is the first important step to realising where reductions might be made. Tracking this usage can be as simple as writing down which appliances we are using and for how long. The power used can then be calculated. Alternatively for your home a smart meter in the home will help to track usage and costs. That alone will not reduce consumption though. Fredericks2 suggesting savings as low as 2%, without further intervention. The next step, and arguably the most important one, is to work out how reductions can be made, based on the monitoring.

For homes this could be as simple as turning the heating down a few degrees and wearing another layer of clothing. For business this could be a reworking of the logistics side of the company. Many of the challenges demand a different approach, which is perhaps why change in our approach to reduction is slow.

Part of the dilemma is balancing upfront financial cost of undertaking the study and implementing the solutions, against the reduction in emissions. This is made more difficult often because the background data for comparisons is not available.

At NMITE, their new Centre for Advanced Timber Technology will become a living lab to help address some of these issues. The timber envelope of the building will be fitted with sensors to collect data about how the building performs. This can be compared to the predicted performance, based on the modelling done in the design phase. The difference here is that this will be data captured from a building in use over a long-term study, rather than data captured in a short laboratory trial, or factory setup. This iterative feedback loop will then inform future designs. The data will be made available to students, to inform their learning.

What will adaption look like?

Adaption is harder to predict, as the amount of adaption is fundamentally tied to the amount of reduction we can achieve. The less reduction we achieve over the coming years, the greater the adaption that will be necessary. Very hot weather contrasting with very intense rainfall, have already shown they cause severe problems across many parts of the globe.

One certainly imagines working from home and buying local, but on a scale greater than that seen at the height of the pandemic. A greater understanding of the interaction between buildings and infrastructure materials and climatic changes will be key. As will reshaping the way we produce the things we need to live, from packing to transport.

NMITE’s current MEng Integrated Engineering students are engaged in a multidisciplinary programme of study, so they are equipped to rise to this challenge. Learn more by going to

Tim Belden is Assistant Professor of Digital Engineering at NMITE.