The UK’s progress on tackling carbon emissions
The Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) invited Patrons to the annual policy briefing to run through legislation changes which affect the building services sector. Hywel Davies, CIBSE’s technical director, elaborated on ‘radical change’ in the sector thanks to the Hackitt Review which was initiated after the Grenfell fire in June 2017, the impact of Brexit on environmental legislation and the Climate Change Act. The latter commits the UK to a reduction of 80% carbon emissions compared to the 1990 baseline by 2050.
Withdrawal Act – but what about existing EU legislation?
As outlined in last year's policy briefing, the Withdrawal Act commits to maintain an existing European body of legislation from 30th March onwards, although those laws can undergo changes and have an unclear ending date in terms of commitment. For the foreseeable future, it will mostly stay as it currently is. The UK has to meet the Climate Change Act commitments and is not withdrawing from the Paris Agreement which stands independent from any EU legislation. This means while the long-term target is set, the means and ways to achieve it might change.
What progress have we made?
The Clean Growth Strategy, published in October 2017, identified how ‘heating our homes and businesses’ has a significant impact on carbon emissions. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC), an independent body which advises, monitors and analyses the Government’s efforts to reach targets, published its six-monthly progress report in June 2018, and a ‘UK housing: Fit for the future’ report in February 2019. While carbon emission fell by 3% in 2017, mostly thanks to changes in the way we produce electricity, the UK needs to act now to achieve the 4th and 5th carbon budget which equates to 51% (by 2025) and 57% (by 2030) carbon emission savings respectively compared to the 1990 baseline. This is mainly due to other sectors not having made the same progress in decarbonisation as electricity generation. While the CCC reports that direct emissions from buildings in 2017 have fallen by 4% compared to 2016, a closer look paints a different picture. Largely attributed to higher winter temperatures, a comparison taking this into account actually shows an estimated rise of building emissions by 1% - a worrying phenomenon observed in the last two years.
Simple and low-cost solutions for existing buildings with long-term support
The CCC criticises the UK Government for dropping and changing regulation and warns of higher costs for the entire economy. Just one of the examples mentioned was a drop in the number of homes being insulated: as a result of withdrawing incentives, the rate was 95% lower compared to 2012. Actions like this are an easy and cheap way to save energy and costs.
The CCC also advocates a better reporting structure and a more strategic focus on energy efficiency for public and commercial buildings, especially in terms of operational savings. The CCC criticises how irregularity of energy performance assessments and weakening the requirement for Display Energy Certificates risks energy efficiency not being taken seriously at a strategic level. It also warns that estimated savings from planned policies will not be achieved if measures aren’t followed through.
Compliance, enforcement and consistency
The CCC calls for effective and tougher regulation and enforcement with a longer-term view to drive consumer demand, innovation and cost reduction. Any existing standards under European Law have to be kept or replaced with comparable or stricter UK policy after the EU exit. This also means keeping policies consistent without being cancelled last minute, such as the Zero Carbon Homes policy which was scrapped in 2015 and replaced by lower standards which can mean costly retrofits later. Failing to improve now comes at a greater cost for the entire economy at a later point. Homes should not only be low-carbon but also future-proof to deal with climate change. Additionally, to achieve building performance as documented in the planning stage, the Committee calls for better monitoring of actual (operating) performance. The CCC requests greater ambitions to achieve high standards and halve energy use of new buildings by 2030 as outlined in the Government’s mission statement. Their advice follows the buildings regulations review by Dame Judith Hackitt. While focused on fire safety, her audit raises how
ignorance, indifference, lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities as well as inadequate oversight, regulation, enforcement and low penalties trigger a ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of build quality.
In the CCC's most recent report, it goes as far as to suggest
“from 2025 at the latest, no new homes should be connected to the gas grid. They should instead be heated through low carbon sources, have ultra-high levels of energy efficiency alongside appropriate ventilation and, where possible, be timber-framed.”
Infrastructure preparation and technology improvements
The CCC urges the Government to put in place infrastructure to make carbon reductions possible. This comprises key technologies such as carbon capture and storage programs and rolling out low-carbon technology such as heat pumps and heat networks as a priority. Lastly, it is also about making use of existing infrastructure which lowers the cost for consumers, such as the use of bio-methane for the decarbonisation of heating.
Addressing skills shortage and funding
The constant change of existing policies has hampered skills development in essential sectors such as “housing design, construction and in the installation of new measures”, criticises the CCC.
To drive the employment of green technology, new skills are needed. A way the Government could achieve this would be making use of initiatives under the Construction Sector Deal. Additionally, funding for programs such as low-carbon heating (runs out in 2021) need to be looked at in co-operation with HM Treasury.
To get consumers on board, the CCC also advises to implement recommendations as per the Green Finance Taskforce: “Green mortgages, green loans and fiscal incentives to help finance upfront costs, as well as improving consumer access to data and service.”
We live in a time of unprecedented threat caused by climate change. While we have to make sure new buildings meet the highest standards to make them most energy efficient, it is crucial not to forget about existing buildings which make up the vast majority of our building stock.
Low-cost quick fixes bring immediate and long-term benefits, but this needs to be combined with a strategic approach (equipment and operational costs). From a legislation perspective, loopholes need to be closed which means exemptions would actually stay true to the word. As a manufacturer, we see our responsibility in not only developing efficient products but also advising our customers on operation and setup to reap all benefits.
We are convinced that improving what we’ve already got, reassessing our own behaviour and developing and using new products of highest standards is the way forward.
More information on ‘green gas’ (such as biomethane) can be found here.