2019: A sustainable year?

22 Nov 2018

Policy area: Sustainability

Our Sustainability Committee Chair and Environmental Manager at Hammerson Richard Quartermaine explores the outlook for sustainability as we move into 2019

Notwithstanding Brexit, it looks like 2019 is going to be a busy year for Government officials and industry alike following the recent publication of the Government’s response to recommendations made by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).

Since the enactment of the Climate Change Act in 2008, the CCC has acted as an independent ‘critical friend’ to Government on progress towards meeting the UK’s emissions reduction targets. The Government’s response to the latest CCC progress report was published during Green GB Week. The response also addresses the progress made since the Clean Growth Strategy (CGS) was published a year ago, which sets out an “ambitious blueprint” for Britain’s low carbon future across all sectors of the economy.

The Government is obviously proud of its achievements to date in the buildings sector – the headlines being a 20% emissions reduction from non-domestic buildings and a 17% drop in average household energy consumption in 2016 compared to 1990. In addition, since 1990, the economy has grown by more than two-thirds whilst carbon emissions have reduced by over 40%.

But is this enough to meet the UK’s legally binding target of an 80% reduction in carbon by 2050? This target is expected to be upgraded to “net zero carbon” by 2050 following the IPCC’s recent report on the feasibility of meeting the Paris Agreement's 1.5C target. We are certainly moving in the right direction with the UK on track to exceed the second and third carbon budgets (2013-2022). We are also reaching major milestones such as the proportion of electricity produced by low carbon sources (renewables and nuclear) exceeding the electricity produced by fossil fuels. These achievements however are likely to have been realised by picking the low hanging fruit and now efforts and initiatives need to be stepped up if we are to go further and meet the tough targets that have been set. To this effect the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee has recently launched an inquiry to assess the robustness of the Government’s approach to delivering energy efficiency improvements in buildings. 

All sectors need to play their part and the property industry in particular knows the challenges ahead – zero carbon new buildings and substantial energy efficiency improvements made to the existing building stock. These outcomes don’t just happen overnight and require a long term, forward thinking policy framework. Some work has already begun on addressing the regulatory and technical challenges that lie ahead and these will continue through 2019. Namely:

  • A consultation on Building Regulations Part L expected in Spring 2019 for new and existing buildings and possible trajectory for standards beyond 2020; 
  • A review of responses received following the EPCs in Buildings: Call for Evidence and to develop an approach to using EPC data to drive energy efficiency in buildings;
  • Improving EPCs and access to data underpinning EPCs and the Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP);
  • A series of Government funded pilot enforcement projects for local authorities to strengthen compliance with minimum standards.
  • Analysing the impact of higher standards for rented sector business buildings and  consult on a trajectory for minimum standards in early 2019; and
  • Considering what and how operational data can be used and continuing work with the BBP’s Design for Performance initiative.

This appears to be positive for the industry but do these commitments aim high enough? The Government need to commit to achieving net zero carbon for new buildings at least by 2025 to give the sector confidence and drive investment to meet this challenge. Through the UKGBC’s Advancing Net Zero work and commitments from property companies such as Hammerson, net zero carbon standards are becoming the focus for new buildings and Government should support these ambitions wholeheartedly.

The BPF has for a number of years been keen to see the greater use of operational data for regulatory purposes and supports the work of the BBP’s Design for Performance initiative. Put simply this initiative asks property developers to design buildings for effective and optimal operation rather than designing for compliance with Part L of the building regulations. In essence, closing the performance gap. The Government’s review of EPCs and their methodology, Part L and how operational data could be used is welcome, but now is the time to make the necessary bold changes and set agreed trajectories to help the industry deliver better performing buildings in increasingly challenging global circumstances.