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Exeter Climate Summit: Imagine A World…

Exeter Climate Summit: Imagine A World…

Grow Talk by Sofy Robertson

Photos by Sofy Robertson

Yesterday, Sandy Park, the home of the Exeter Chiefs, played host to a very different, but equally exciting event; The Exeter Climate Summit.

Organised by Glen King PR, the Climate Summit marked the beginning of a series of events from the Devon and Exeter Club of Constructing Excellence South West to raise awareness of the environmental challenges that construction is facing. The event was sponsored by NPS South West, Midas Construction Ltd and Exeter Science Park.

David Greensmith, Managing Director of Glen King PR, opened the event by saying:

“There’s never been a time like today. Everything we do affects what happens on the planet. We must do things differently.”

Mike Borkowski, Business Development Director at Midas Construction Ltd and one of the sponsors of the event spoke about how fortunate we are to have a wealth of expertise in Exeter regarding climate issues. Exeter is home to the Met Office and the University of Exeter, both significant contributors to the IPCC Report that has shocked so many local authorities into action.


Exeter Climate Summit


Emma Osmundsen: Passivhaus

The first speaker, in a slight alteration to the original agenda, was Emma Osmundsen, the Housing Development Manager at Exeter City Council. She spoke about Exeter’s journey to “climate resilience” by ensuring the “three Ps; people, planet and profit” were at the heart of their projects alongside “financial responsibility, environmental responsibility and social responsibility”.

For the past ten years, Exeter has been developing climate resilient buildings. With the highest concentration of climate scientists in the world, Exeter is truly on the front line of climate research. Despite there being no specific standard in the UK that constructors must adhere to, Exeter City Council adopted the German Standard; BREEAM 2015.

Osmundsen explained that most designs use weather files that are out of date due to their assumptions that temperatures will remain static. The data in the IPCC report demonstrates the steadily climbing temperatures and in response to this, Exeter City Council hope to build the UK’s first Passivhaus Leisure Centre, St Sidwell’s Point, as revealed by Grow on Tuesday. They also hope to build the UK’s first certified Passivhaus extra care development to take care of those most vulnerable to the changing climate conditions in our community after it was revealed that this summer’s heatwave caused between 600 and 1000 additional deaths. Most of these were elderly people.


Karime Hassan: Growth of Greater Exeter

Karime Hassan, Chief Executive at Exeter City Council, followed Osmundsen. He began with a powerful message:

“Leadership is about defining the kind of future we want to see.”

He spoke about the importance of getting environmental issues made into policies and put into frameworks for local councils as well as wider government through“lobbying” and “cajoling”. He spoke passionately about the need for change, saying:

“This planet is in desperate need. We are failing in our responsibility to take care of it.”

Hassan highlighted the challenges of meeting government targets with regards to new housing in Greater Exeter, but argued:

“The biggest challenge for us is not the new housing but the existing stock.”

This point was echoed by later speakers who discussed ways to improve the environmental impact of the 80% of established houses we have. Hassan also highlighted the issues of congestion caused by commuting that form an everyday problem in Exeter:

“No matter what you do with Passivhaus, if you’ve got a forty-mile commute, none of that matters.”

Despite these challenges, Hassan praised the growth of Exeter’s economy and how special our city is, saying:

“There aren’t Russell Group Universities everywhere, there aren’t supercomputers everywhere and there aren’t world-class meteorologists everywhere.”

With this in mind, ECC’s ambition is to be one of the world’s most sustainable cities by meeting the UN’s sustainable development goals. Hassan finished by saying:

“We are leading by example. I hope you will follow us.”


Professor Albert Klein Tank: Climate; The Next Fifty Years


Exeter Climate Summit


Professor Albert Klein Tank is the Director of the Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Science and Services. Previously a professor in Climate Services at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, Klein Tank moved to Exeter because we have “the world leading centre for climate change and research”.

He explained that in order to understand what is to come in our climate, we must consider present day and past climate data. He highlighted the change that has occurred in recent years; it is no longer a case of if the climate is changing but what are the risks? How will we adapt our practices in response?

“We are now at a stage where we can say there is a human influence on climate change.”

Klein Tank joked that this presentation was taking place a week too early as on Monday the Met Office will launch their climate projections for the UK in London. Those in attendance at the Climate Summit did get a sneak peek at some of the diagrams and data involved. He revealed that more than 60% of extreme weather events studied to date were made more likely or more severe by man-made climate change. The Met Office’s research has also shown that between 26% to 89% of the impacts of climate change can be avoided by limiting global warming to <2 degrees Celsius.


Adam Cook: Thought Provoking


Exeter Climate Summit


Adam Cook, Director at HillValley Research and WildSupport is a self-proclaimed futurist, as well as an environmental scientist. Based in Plymouth, Cook explained:

“We are 7.7 billion people using at least three Planet Earth’s worth of resources a year.”

Cook runs a thinktank called ‘The City of Tomorrow’ where he looks further ahead than most to 2150 and the possibilities that this time-period could hold in terms of advances in sustainable living. He admitted he had the “luxury” of not thinking about budgets and share-holders in his plans and instead can focus on “perfection”.

He discussed some of the ongoing research that he is currently part of; screens that heal when broken, editable bacteria that, when ingested, kill cancer cells and then itself. These ideas that may seem like Science Fiction to many are the products of these dreams of “perfection”.

Cook ended with a rather damning comment:

“In many ways, the world has ended. This is not necessarily a bad thing. We can have a much better world.”


Alex Lochead: Heat in Buildings Team

Alex Lochead, Policy Advisor for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, had travelled down from London to speak at the Climate Summit. He spoke about the Industrial Strategy (IS) and the Grand Challenges they had set, one of which was clean growth.

“The UK has decarbonised its economy at a faster rate than any.”

Lochead cited heat as the single biggest reason we use energy in society and the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. He spoke about the advances in heat technology and zero bills homes, even describing Tesla as a “sexy thing”. Lochead conceded that the development of technology must take into account

“ordinary people who live day to day lives. We need to think about how they will interact with these new technologies and services. But we must do it.”


David Phillips and Robert Bedner: Biophilic Design

David Phillips and Robert Bedner, directors at CURA designs, expressed their “vested interest” as humans in our environment and the issue of global warming. Phillips warned “We are disconnecting from nature” and therefore need to “reappraise how we build”.

For Phillips and Bedner, this reappraisal comes in the form of biophilic design; designing with nature for our mutual benefit. As a self-proclaimed “tree geek”, Phillips showed the audience an English Oak and described how it supports other life systems; home to fungi, birds and insects. He used this as a metaphor for how design and construction should move forward, supporting more than just human life:

“If things can live on this structure, things can live on what we build.”

Bedner supported this, citing a number of studies and case studies in saying:

“The more we can be in contact with nature, the better it is for us.”


Exeter Climate Summit


Greg Jones: The Electric City

Greg Jones, Associate Director of Hoare Lea, engineer and futurist, invited the audience to “imagine” in a reference to John Lennon. His vision is that of an electric city; a city that supplies its own power.

“We depend on power to drive growth, but we import most of what we need.”

The UK currently imports 54% of its gas supply and most of this comes from Norway. Advances have been made in Scotland to provide ‘green’ power through the use of the tidal power plant but Jones condemned the government’s continued investment in nuclear power when uranium supplies are expected to run out in the next eighty years. Jones spoke of a “democratisation of power” where “ownership will become usership” with home owners and individuals selling electricity from solar panels and wind turbines back to the grid.

“Imagine what this city could feel like; clearer air, quieter spaces and better health. We need to create a city we are proud to pass on to the next generation.”


Maxine Goodey: BREEAM

Maxine Goodey, Senior Consultant at AES Sustainability Consultants Ltd, was the final speaker to take to the podium. She discussed BREEAM, the world’s first leading international standard for sustainability assessment and how it can be used as a tool when designing and constructing buildings.

Citing last year as an example, Goodey went through the extremes of temperature she had experienced; a flood visiting her parents in Zimbabwe, the Beast from the East brining her first experience of snow to the UK in March and the heatwave that hit over summer. All of these were used as examples of portents to come.

Goodey discussed how using BREEAM standards can help to decarbonise our environment, with BREAAM Outstanding buildings saving more than 50% Carbon Dioxide emissions. She spoke passionately about the responsibility of her industry, saying:

“We all need to play our part and the construction industry has a huge part to play.”


Exeter Climate Summit


Final Thoughts

The Climate Summit truly brought home how much talent Exeter has in the ecological field. Technologies that I had never heard of were discussed with a shared understanding. Councillors, scientists and directors within the construction industry chaired the same space and spoke from the same agenda, citing acceptance and change as our only way forward.

Alex Lochead acknowledged that he and the other speakers were preaching to the “converted”, to those who had already accepted the gravitas of the situation and were using their power to drive change. There are undoubtedly greater challenges out there to face in terms of converting local authorities, wider governments and nations to accept that climate change is happening and that the time to act is now. If, as Adam Cook said, the world has ended, what Phoenix-like existence can be born from its ashes?

A morning of discussing climate issues could very quickly have become a negative spiral of doom and gloom. There is no shying away from the fact that the situation is grave but those gathered to speak and those gathered to listen were ready to embrace the battle ahead. Whether thinking forward to 2050 as Exeter City Council are or 2150 as Adam Cook and his think tank are, it is clear that this summit was thinking in the right direction.

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