Posted by Fabrick on 10 July 2019

An announcement on the BBC News today has highlighted that the UK government is ‘not acting fast enough’ when it comes to achieving ambitious climate change targets. This follows the Prime Minister recently stating that the UK would lead the world by cutting almost all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 – so called net zero. The PM’s announcement was only last month so is it fair to say already that the government is not doing enough?

In her last act as Prime Minister, Theresa May pledged to implement the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) by creating a legally binding net zero carbon target for 2050. There is no getting away from the fact that net zero by 2050 is an ambitious target, but I for one believe that ambitious targets are a good thing. Place the bar too low and your target is easily achievable and the step forward probably isn’t enough, set it higher and it not only provides a greater focus but it also means we are making bigger strides. The question is, is the bar being set too high that we are going to fail before we have even started?

According to the BBC, advisors have said that the UK government is facing a ‘get real’ moment over global heating, and the CCC said ministers were failing to cut emissions fast enough and failing to adapt to rising temperatures. Being more specific, the committee chairman Lord Deben has said “The whole thing is really run by the government like a Dad’s Army. We can’t go on with this ramshackle system.” Countering this statement, government said it would soon set out plans to tackle emissions from aviation, heat, energy and transport.

The issue comes as the CCC said that the UK was already stumbling over measures needed to achieve the target of an 80% emissions cut. But surely it is too soon to start pointing the finger and say government is stumbling before we have even got out of the starting blocks?

A report from the CCC says new policies must be found to help people lead good lives without fuelling global warming. This includes ensuring people living in care homes, hospitals and flats can stay cool in increasingly hot summers – countering the fact that as a nation our temperatures are getting warmer and as a result of trying to create more thermally efficient buildings, we have created buildings that now overheat. Further, the report says government must show how funds will be found to protect critical infrastructure, such as ports, from rising sea levels.

To put the issue into more focus, the PM has also stated that the UK should host a critical global climate summit next year. As such, the world will be watching and we need to ensure that by next year we have a plan on how we are going to tackle some of these issues and what the road map is for the UK to meet our 2050 target. If we don’t, we risk losing credibility on a global stage.

The CCC committee’s deputy chairwoman, Baroness Brown, told BBC News: “There’s an increasing sense of frustration that the government knows what it has to do - but it’s just not doing it.” It is claimed that of the list of actions needed to meet emission targets, such as improving insulation of buildings and increasing the market share of electric vehicles, the committee found only seven out of 24 goals were on track. In fact, outside of the power and industry sectors, only two indicators were on track.

The built environment is one of the largest contributors to climate change - buildings are responsible for more than 40% of global energy usage and one third of greenhouse gas emissions. Whilst urban green space such as parks and gardens, provide much needed cooling and help to reduce flood risks, there is a need to build more homes. It is claimed that urban area green spaces have shrunk from 63% in 2001 to 55% in 2018, and the proportion of hard surfaces in towns has risen by 22% since 2001, even though they make floods worse.

However, I think we need to understand that addressing climate change will not be a quick win - it won’t be an overnight success. It is about finding the balance between investing in our built environment – new homes, better infrastructure, improved community facilities such as schools and hospitals – and finding more sustainable ways to live. It is also something that requires support and action from more than just one organisation. We can’t just put it all at government’s feet and expect them to do the necessary.

In terms of the built environment, we are making progress towards reducing our carbon emissions, it is just not quick enough. What we need is clear guidance and policies from government that will allow us to accelerate change. If we leave it to the industry to drive change, we run the risk of getting caught up in self-interest and the old issue of waiting for someone else to do it (and take the financial hit) before following.

However, we are at a time when the industry is facing major change and the way we design, procure, build and operate our buildings is under scrutiny (post Dame Judith Hackitt’s ‘Building a Safer Future: Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety’ report). As such, there is going to be a huge cultural shift and part of that will be around better design, procurement that doesn’t focus on lowest price and record keeping. This should fall in line with lower carbon emissions and, if we get it right, accelerating change towards this goal should be possible.

What we need to do is tie the two together and ensure that we have guidance and clarity from government on what we need to do and we are going to do it. Yes it is a big challenge, but has the PM set the bar too high? Time will tell, but what’s for sure is we can’t stand around debating it, action is needed.

David Ing, Fabrick

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