How will RICS respond to COP26’s climate targets?

‘We know that the way we create and operate buildings must change,’ says RICS President Clement Lau in his monthly column


  • Clement Lau

01 November 2021

Photo of a foggy city

This month, I am honoured to be travelling to Scotland to attend COP26 and represent the profession. American computer scientist Grace Hopper once said that “one accurate measurement is worth a thousand expert opinions.” I have been reflecting on this quote as we approach COP26 and the critical role that RICS professionals will play in the years to come.

We know that the way we create and operate buildings must change if the world is to meet its net zero objectives by 2050. The built environment accounts for nearly 40% of emissions globally: around 30% from heating, cooling and operating buildings and 10% from the materials and products used in their construction and maintenance.

There is no way to remove these emissions overnight, no silver bullet technology that can simply wipe them away. Instead, we need to look carefully at each individual building and make choices that are not just about financial gain but environmental gain too. Carbon is rapidly becoming a new currency and the most sustainable buildings bring additional rewards in terms of economic value and enhanced reputation.

This opens up a new opportunity for the surveying profession. The high-level targets and ambitions are all agreed and there is a strong consensus that the world must move to net zero by 2050. What remains less clear is the pathway to get there. Reliable, authoritative and consistent measurements will be needed to monitor our progress. The International Cost Measurement Standard (ICMS), which is launching in a few weeks, is a powerful tool for measuring and monitoring carbon emissions across the whole life cycle of a project.

Alongside ICMS, we are consulting on new global guidance covering sustainability and ESG within commercial property valuation. Significantly, this guidance will draw attention to the role that valuers have in assessing the impact of sustainability factors on value. This is something clients are increasingly demanding and will empower RICS professionals to give practical advice that meaningfully informs sustainable and socially responsible investment strategies.  

Clement Lau headshot

“There is no way to remove these emissions overnight, no silver bullet technology that can simply wipe them away”



While COP26 will be a key moment, we must not lose momentum in the months afterwards. RICS will be convening a series of summits under a banner of ‘One Industry, One Challenge’, bringing together the key actors from across industries to discuss how key sectors can make a material impact in reducing emissions and preserving biodiversity.

Finally, we are launching an essay competition for young professionals to send in ideas and creative solutions to meet the net zero challenge. RICS members and candidates under the age of 35 represent the future of the profession – and the ones who will inspire the next generation of talent. There will be four sector categories: land and natural resources; valuation; construction and infrastructure and property or facilities management.

All of us have a role to play in creating a better future. I know that by working together and drawing expertise from the breadth of our profession, we can create the foundation for a prosperous and sustainable built environment in the years to come.


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