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With the year 2050 acting as a milestone for humanity with a number of key targets, Ellina Webb looks at the significance of the date and the challenges ahead.

I had a stark realisation a few days ago after reading that by 2050 the world’s population is set to reach 9.7 billion.

The realisation wasn’t really to do with the incomprehensible number of people (an increase of 31% on the world’s current population) who are set to inhabit a planet that is already overshooting on its resources at an alarming rate…

The realisation was that 2050 is always the milestone. 2050 is the tipping point.

2050 isn’t some far away future in a Star Trek logbook. 2050 is what we’re aiming for and, much like shifting from your 20s to your 30s, it’s why we need to work hard now so we can ‘put our feet up and look after the kids later’.

In fact out of the 300 plus articles currently live on The Hub, I did a quick search and found over 15 articles that reference 2050 in some way or another.

So before you forget how significant this date will be, I thought I’d remind you…

2050 isn’t some far away future in a Star Trek logbook. If we want to live long and prosper, we have to put the hard work in now.

Ellina Webb Ellina Webb Senior Marketing Executive at Mitsubishi Electric

Around 75% of our existing buildings will still be in use in 2050

Legislation is something that affects us all in one way or another, whether we know it or not. In the past few years improving your EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) rating has become increasingly important in both the housing and commercial market.

Essentially buildings need to be tougher on energy use because right now they account for 44% of all UK greenhouse gas emissions (more than industry and transport).

By 2050 this high percentage of existing buildings that will still be in use meaning that a lot of our future is already built – as my colleague Martin Fahey explains in more detail here.

Spoiler alert: this means that part of the answer is to improve energy efficiency which can make a dramatic difference. This can be achieve through a number of strategies such as insulation, energy efficient technologies – for example R32 air conditioning or air source heat pumps, as well as good use of controls by facilities managers or anyone who looks after a building or home.

Better HVAC technology is a really important solution that we support, not only because we manufacturer market leading products that allow buildings to heat and cool more efficiently, as these articles explain. We are also advocates of clever control strategies which can easily be achieved, as my colleague Scott is very eager to help out with.

Other key legislations that highlight the importance and Government requirement to improve our current building stock include MEES; the Ecodesign Directive; ESOS; and Part L & Part F of the Building Regulations, all of which you can read more about via our website.

The need to reduce CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050

Arguably the most talked about 2050 date here in the UK (and definitely on the Hub) is the Carbon Reduction Targets. These targets form part of our fossil fuel challenges which include fuel security as is it predicted that soon 70% of the energy the UK uses will be imported.

Therefore the move towards renewables makes even more sense as rising fuel prices plus major environmental problems will push the market in this direction. Again my colleague Martin is an expert on this topic, often explaining why the ‘green way’ is the only way.

Carbon Reduction Targets will ultimately have a major effect on non-domestic buildings and their energy use, likely requiring elimination of nearly all emissions from heating buildings (including heating for industrial processes) as previous former editor of Modern Building Services, Ken Sharpe explains here

Cooling is also a major energy user and it is estimated that air conditioning systems may account for around a tenth of total UK electricity consumption. Therefore the installation of energy efficient cooling systems is imperative especially as the demand for cooling will increase as the planet continues to heat up.

Of course premium HVAC systems also need to be operated and maintained effectively to ensure optimal efficiency – for example a control strategy that ensures heating and cooling isn’t wasted during a time that a building is unoccupied. This is a topic that again Ken has discussed on the Hub here.

Helping the UK reach its carbon reduction targets isn’t all down to better technology in our buildings, we can all play our parts individually. For example walking or cycling to work has huge benefits. In fact as my colleague and keen cycler Adam Wallace points out, if the amount of people cycling to work doubled, it would reduce CO2 emissions by 0.6 million tonnes a year by decreasing car use.

From a housing point a view, homeowners and landlords have to be clued up on sustainability too. In fact as contributing writing Bevan Jones, Managing Director of Sustainable Homes explains “we need quality, sustainable homes that realise the benefits now, and in the decades that follow”.

This is also a major challenge for housing developers especially due to the demand in housing and the requirement for 3 million new homes by 2030. What can help though is improving existing stock which is the most cost effective way of tackling carbon reduction – Joe Bradbury of House Association magazine points out that “we have some of the oldest and least energy efficient housing stock in Europe”!

Decarbonising and improving energy efficiency in new and existing homes will not only go far in helping with carbon reduction targets, it will also help the 4.5 million homes in fuel poverty today, an issue that we have to eliminate long before 2050. Renewable heat pumps are a great way to help achieve this and the time to make this transition is now, no matter how you currently heat your home as Sharon Oliver, Marketing Manager for renewable heating at Mitsubishi Electric explains here.

Earth from Space
Beam Me Up, Scotty By 2050 it is estimated that the demand for air conditioning will triple as the planet heats up. This date could also see the extinction of a third of the worlds animal species as well as 34 billion tonnes of plastic in our ocean.

By 2050 80-92% of flats could experience internal temperatures over 28C during a heat wave

Even if you live in the Arctic Circle, this year it has been extremely hard to miss the recent heatwave. Even before the swelting highs hit every last corner of the earth, increased temperatures, urban heat islands and extreme weather was becoming part of our everyday conversations. In India the heatwave saw around 2,000 people die, while infrastructures such as roads (both in India and even the UK!) melted away and land dried up into an arid wasteland.

In the city the suffering was unimaginable, even for the seasonal sun worshipper, and through the sweat the world began to worry at how hot it could really get…

By 2050 it is predicted that 970 major cities in the world will experience average summer temperatures in excess of 35C. While reaching temperatures of a worrying 50C will become a reality.

For those who live in the city this will not only mean a poor night’s sleep, increased temperatures will aggravate heat stress which will impact public services such as police and hospitals, it will also impact water supplies, transport and the economy. I’ve gone into more details about how this will affect a major city like London here.

These increases in temperatures will also have a major impact on non-domestic buildings like offices, compromising occupant comfort and wellbeing – it’s no surprise then that the global demand for air conditioning is likely to triple by 2050 as Jim McClelland, editor of @SusteMeme points out in his Hub article.

Experts predict that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish

Another topic that has focused around the 2050 milestone in recent years is that of plastic. In fact, research suggests that humans will have produced 34 billion tonnes of plastic by 2050, so again it’s no shock that 2050 could mark there being more plastic in the ocean than fish!

It takes 450 years for a plastic bottle to completely break down and in that time, it is likely to be ingested by a marine animal. On the animal note it is also estimated that by 2050 one third of all species of animal currently on our planet will be extinct – and I think we can see a bit of a link there!

Being mindful of the plastic we use and how it can be recycled is imperative for the sake of us all and over the next few years I look forward to the targets our Government puts in place so that by 2050, our oceans start to repair and replenish.

By 2050 it is predicted that the ozone layer will be completely repaired

Finally, some very good news for 2050 is that the hole in the ozone layer caused by the use of ozone depleting chemicals (ODP) is estimated to be completely repaired by this date.

The hole in the ozone layer peaked in 2000 and since then the move towards using chemicals with low ODP has been a great step forward.

In much the same way, our industry is now tackling the use of chemicals and refrigerants with a lower global warming potential (GWP).

As part of this move the F-Gas phase down has driven the refrigeration industry to use better refrigerant such as R32 which has a low global warming potential and has better efficiency levels.

This important part of the phase down highlights why the move to R32 air conditioning is extremely important for both improving efficiency levels in buildings and helping our planet repair.

Afterall, if we do nothing we will be at risk of badly going where no man has gone before!

Ellina Webb is a Senior Marketing Executive at Mitsubishi Electric