Cutting carbon emissions – it’s a necessity, not a competition

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Simon Storer, Chief Executive of IMA responds to the recent announcement that the government will reduce carbon emissions by 68% by 2030.

Last week the PM Boris Johnson announced that the UK was going to set a new target in terms of reducing carbon emission by 2030 and by doing so would achieve its target faster than any major economy. Whilst targets and ambitions are commendable, we need to understand that reducing carbon emissions is a national obligation and not a race (except perhaps against time). Also, if we are to achieve our targets there is a need for some major changes in the way we all conduct our lives.

The PM has vowed to cut emissions by 68% by 2030 based on levels in 1990. However, a government spending watchdog has warned meeting the UK’s world-leading climate change target will be a “colossal challenge”.  The National Audit Office says it will affect the way we work, travel, heat our homes – even how much meat we eat. In a report it says the cost of cutting CO2 is highly uncertain, but the cost of allowing temperatures to rise would probably be greater. Making the new pledge, Boris Johnson urged other world leaders to follow with ambitious targets at the virtual climate summit he is hosting on 12th December.

Whilst the announcement has been broadly welcomed (scientists say it does not guarantee dangerous climate change will be avoided), my fear is this is just another broad-brush strokes target that we will fudge. We have a track record of setting targets and then not following through with them. We get part way there, decide they are too difficult and then move the goalposts. In doing so, we miss hitting the targets and end up in a position of another scheme or initiative started but unfulfilled.

It’s no secret that the construction sector is a large contributor to greenhouse gas emissions with the built environment responsible for almost 50 percent of the UK’s emissions. This is why we have the enormous challenge to dramatically improve all existing and new build houses and other buildings to meet our climate change targets.

Legislation designed to improve the sector is long overdue. The review of Part L that needs to go further than before and must close the numerous loopholes that allow the construction of buildings that do not meet energy efficiency standards, is desperately needed.

Energy efficiency must be at the heart of the Future Homes Standard, with proposals for improved and more stringent fabric efficiency standards to minimise heat loss from walls, windows, doors, floors and roofs, as well as through far more attention to detail at junctions.  We must build homes that solve today’s challenges and are long term solutions, as it would be scandalous if homes being built today need to be retrofitted to reach the 2050 target.

If the UK is to meet its emission goals the construction sector needs targets with teeth, and the only way to achieve compliance is with legislation. The industry is set in its ways – if we provide a choice, all too often we will follow the route of least resistance. Regulations are a minimum standard, not a target and we have become accustomed to achieving the minimum standard.

The minimum standard will not get us to our goal. Let’s face it, if the minimum standard did enable us to achieve zero carbon efficiently, we would be there already! We know we can create zero carbon homes – we have the design and engineering skills, and the materials. As such we don’t need to wait for new technology to provide us with a solution, we have it already. What we don’t have is the drive or incentive to make us achieve it.

This is partly down to cost. Going beyond minimum regulations and creating zero carbon buildings costs more. Too many schemes start off with the good intentions of pushing for a higher performance but when the numbers kick in, something gets compromised and the quality suffers.

The big issue is that we have been here before and have heard government make promises. What we now need is clear action as to how we are going to achieve it. “Today, we are taking the lead with an ambitious new target to reduce our emissions by 2030 faster than any major economy” claimed Boris Johnson last week. My question to the Prime Minister is: Talk is easy, it’s delivery that counts, so how are you going to make sure we meet this target and show the other major economies how it can be done?

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