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Retrofitting homes would tackle several pressing concerns, including the cost of living and energy security

Research

UK sees ‘alarming’ lack of progress in decarbonising real estate

The UK Green Building Council has laid out recommendations to put the UK back on track to meet its net zero goals through a more sustainable built environment.

Assessing green building policies since the government’s Heat and Building Strategy launched in October 2021, the UKGBC said proposals and plans fail to deliver – or even hinder – a net zero carbon built environment, resulting in an “alarming lack of progress”.

UKGBC CEO Julie Hirigoyen said that while most areas of policy it analysed in its scorecard, available in full here, “have come back red rated”, action would unlock considerable opportunities.

“The size of the prize is huge in terms of saved energy bills, energy security, a massive jobs boom and levelling up and export opportunities,” she said. “Stepping up action in this area is the definition of smart government and smart investment.”

Regarding operational carbon, the UKGBC found that current policies put the country on track for about half of the emissions cuts it needs. While it did welcome a “new political commitment” from Chancellor Jeremy Hunt in the Autumn Statement that energy saving would become as important as energy generation, other policies, such as minimum energy efficiency standards, have stalled.

Meanwhile, there is a “huge” policy gap with regards to embodied carbon – carbon emitted in the development process. While the government has said that it is considering policy option in the area, specific policies have yet to materialise.

The UKGBC has calculated that embodied carbon accounts for 24% of built environment emissions.

One area where there has been progress is in industry and infrastructure. The report pointed to initiatives such as the government exploring standards for whole-life carbon assessments and supporting carbon capture utilisation and storage. But it added that even there progress needs to accelerate.

Recommendations

1. Fast-track retrofit of UK homes

“Cutting energy waste from homes is one of the biggest opportunities the government has to simultaneously tackle the cost-of-living crisis, energy security, inflation and levelling up,” the UKGBC said.

The government, it argued, should introduce policies to encourage owner occupiers to decarbonise their homes and adopt a national retrofit strategy to upgrade all UK homes. Central to this is tapping into expertise in the Energy Efficiency Taskforce, announced in the Autumn Statement.

2. Overhaul the planning system

“The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill currently progressing through Parliament and forthcoming changes to the National Planning Policy Framework must be used to ensure new developments and infrastructure are fit for purpose with climate and nature improvement at their core.”

3. Stop building homes and buildings not fit for net zero

The Future Homes and Buildings Standard is an opportunity to ensure that the UK is building spaces that can be “genuinely zero carbon”. A consultation is forthcoming and the standard is expected to be introduced in 2025.

Calculating cost and opportunity

The UKGBC argued that investment in building decarbonisation will ultimately pay for itself. Crunching the numbers, it calculated:

  • An annual household saving of more than £700 on energy bills
  • An additional 500,000 skilled local jobs over 10 years
  • Saving the NHS £1.4bn in annual treatment bills for conditions related to cold homes

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