Energy

“Our Industry is Not Moving Fast Enough” – UK Green Building Council

The United Kingdom (UK) is falling behind in its projected green building roadmap according to the UK’s Green Building Council’s (UKGBC) progress report. The initial 2021 roadmap demanded a 19% drop in emissions over the past four years but the latest data shows just a 13% fall, more than 30% short of the target reduction. “Unprecedented global events have shaped the story of the built environment over the last four years, but despite forced emissions reductions during the pandemic, this progress report makes one thing clear: our industry is not moving fast enough,” said Smith Mordak, Chief Executive at UK Green Building Council. UKGBC’s Net Zero Whole Life Carbon Roadmap for the Built Environment, published in 2021, was the first industry-led effort to develop a deliverable pathway to Net Zero for buildings and infrastructure in the UK. It identified the rapid and consistent actions needed to realize the 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (compared […]

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The United Kingdom (UK) is falling behind in its projected green building roadmap according to the UK’s Green Building Council’s (UKGBC) progress report.

The initial 2021 roadmap demanded a 19% drop in emissions over the past four years but the latest data shows just a 13% fall, more than 30% short of the target reduction.

“Unprecedented global events have shaped the story of the built environment over the last four years, but despite forced emissions reductions during the pandemic, this progress report makes one thing clear: our industry is not moving fast enough,” said Smith Mordak, Chief Executive at UK Green Building Council.

UKGBC’s Net Zero Whole Life Carbon Roadmap for the Built Environment, published in 2021, was the first industry-led effort to develop a deliverable pathway to Net Zero for buildings and infrastructure in the UK. It identified the rapid and consistent actions needed to realize the 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (compared to 1990) required then zero emissions by 2050. Requiring unprecedented policy reforms and engagement from all stakeholders.

“The timeline to meet net zero cannot extend. We must now reduce emissions nearly twice as fast as we have been to get back on track. The later we leave it, the harder it will be and the greater the missed opportunities for tackling interconnected nature and social crises,” Mordak continued. “Industry and government need to work hand in hand to create decisive change and bridge the emissions gap that sets us on a path to deliver net zero.”

While this may sound like the same kind of rhetoric we’ve been hearing for a decade or more, time is passing and climate change is not going to wait for pandemics, politics, or industry. While the real estate sector may already be feeling the weight of environmental regulation, things are only going to get heavier as we play catch up to the minimum environmental standards needed.

The Need for Green Building Retrofits

The biggest shortfall came from embodied carbon emissions, which were reduced by just 4%, less than one-quarter of the amount that was required in the roadmap, according to the progress report. The huge and growing impact of real estate on climate change must eventually be addressed and in the UK that increasingly means moving past fancy greenfield projects, and on to the hard work of retrofitting its existing building stock.

“The Government has not delivered policies that would enable retrofitting of existing buildings at anywhere near the scale and speed required to meet net zero,” reads the progress report. “A flurry of ‘U-turns’ in 2023 saw the Government scrap plans for Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) for rental homes and protection to some of the most fuel-poor households. Meanwhile, the delay to phasing out gas and oil boilers for home heating continues to prolong the UK’s reliance on expensive, polluting fossil fuels."

The UK Green Building Council is calling for a step-change for government investment in retrofit, to make it affordable for everyone, alongside a change to stamp duty so owners are rewarded for decarbonising within two years of purchase. These kinds of environmental incentive schemes provide an important “carrot” for real estate stakeholders. While the inevitable tightening of regulations represents the “stick” that will have to play an increasing role in meeting critical targets.

“Rapid action is imperative and can only be achieved through more ambitious political and industry leadership,” concludes the progress report. “We must now reduce emissions nearly twice as fast if we are to return to our trajectory to net zero by 2025, emphasizing the urgency to bridge the gap between aspirations and actual emissions reductions. “

UK Green Building Council Progress Report

Green Building Retrofits & Our Future

The lack of progress over the last four years will now require key UK built environment sectors to decarbonise nearly twice as fast over the next two years in order to get back on track. A further 12% reduction in emissions would be needed by the time the next progress report is published in 2025, which equates to a lofty 21 MtCO2e decrease in yearly emissions.

Despite this pessimistic reminder of an existential crisis and the struggle we face to solve it, the UK can have some pride in what it has achieved. Over the past four years operational emissions reduced by 18%, for example, which was approximately what was required on the initial roadmap. The UK and other progressive markets can take solace from the fact that their targets are ambitious (considering the challenges) and meeting any of them is a success.

“The real question is, what should a ‘good’ retrofit actually look like? I would argue, the goals are clear: the technology should be quick and easy to deploy and deliver guaranteed outcomes at a predictable and affordable cost,” LMG Executive Director, Mike Hook, told Memoori. “These are the crucial factors that will ultimately de-risk the entire smart fit-out and enable the migration to cost-effective smart buildings for all. The good news is that there are, in theory, several ways that these goals can be achieved.”

In the UK and around the world, every building stakeholder can do more. From occupants improving their energy behavior to operators continuously driving greater levels of efficiency, from designers prioritizing eco concepts to construction sustaining green practices, and from building owners providing investment to the industry moving towards open source technology development. We will need all these aspects and more to avoid failure, and the sooner we make these shifts, the best chance we have.

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