Decarbonising our built environment is vital to reaching the UK’s net-zero ambition.
This message has been acknowledged by all political parties and featured strongly in their electoral pledges.
Yet, for all the rhetoric, emissions from buildings have stalled and the uptake of energy efficiency has been slow. With the sector accounting for 39% of carbon emissions, action by individual businesses is not enough to drive transformation.
It is clear that the only way to get the whole industry to respond is through regulation.
Time is of the essence. Since the government’s announcement in June to legislate for a net-zero target, there has been no action. We require a time frame that reflects the urgency of change required, and 2020 needs to be the year where we see action.
The last significant update to Part L of the Building Regulations was made in 2010, yet it is widely known that technology and market expectations have evolved since then. Heat decarbonisation is another area that needs attention to unlock necessary investment in alternative technologies.
All proposed regulations should be critically analysed with a net-zero lens. Instead of contemplating a future trajectory for the minimum energy efficiency standard, we should be focusing on defining an operational energy and carbon metric that the industry can benchmark against. This operational performance metric needs to be reflected in regulation.
We do, however, need to be careful of the impact of potential regulation on commercial viability, in the short term at least. There are already a number of competing priorities for landlords, with increasing build costs and the current challenging policy situation. Adding more cost to appraisals will exacerbate this and may lead to old stock being left, preventing the required upgrades. Any new requirements need to be balanced against existing commitments – otherwise we run the risk of no action being taken at all.
The elephant in the room here is the lack of skills to deliver net-zero buildings. We know there is a significant performance gap and the whole supply chain will need to be rapidly upskilled, from the design stages through to operation. Government investment in this area should be an absolute priority. We learn by doing, so a programme that incentivises early delivery will enable early adopters and learners, and, ultimately, action.
We’ve reached the stage where everyone understands the importance of sustainability – now the focus is on delivery.
Sonal Jain is sustainability director at JLL.