The quest for net zero carbon and the ever-increasing urgency to halt climate change have garnered significant attention in recent months.
Many companies are making serious commitments to change, but rather than merely paying lip service, it is essential that businesses take practical steps to lower their emissions, especially if we are to reach this target by 2050.
The built environment is responsible for 40% of global emissions. To put this into context, transport accounts for 27%. But there is light at the end of the tunnel: we believe a solutions-based approach to tackling the risks posed by climate change can help meet the target.
Following a report at the start of the year, UKGBC – with which Property Week recently launched The Climate Crisis Challenge – has recommended that the office sector should cut energy demand by an average of 60% by 2050 to achieve net-zero-carbon emissions and has set out guidelines on how best to achieve this.
Businesses have to set out a trajectory to tighten their belts on energy performance over the next 15 years. If you are seeking zero-carbon emissions for operational energy, it is key to hit these targets, meet demand through renewable sources and finally offset any remaining carbon.
There are practical solutions for both landlords of existing stock and developers of new property. For example, a shift to electric heating is key to unlocking zero-carbon buildings. Until now, lower natural gas prices compared with electricity have meant a legacy of gas-fired heating, but World Bank forecasts suggest gas prices are likely to increase while electricity costs flatten out over the next 10 years.
Many existing buildings will have to undergo retrofitting to make this possible and there will need to be improvements to the entire fabric of buildings, including better lighting, high-performance window glazing and insulation to reduce heat loss.
Any remaining carbon emissions associated with operations will need to be offset by carbon-free renewable energy. This can be achieved using either onsite or offsite renewables, but the priority should be generating power on site to alleviate pressure on the National Grid.
This alone isn’t enough; we also need to share best practice and demonstrate how net zero emissions are being achieved. Annual reporting should help those lagging behind.
Investors want transparent, meaningful and comparable information. The disclosure of risk will help improve business and investor decisions to cut emissions in line with targets. Some are even calling for this to be mandatory.
The UN Principles for Responsible Investment make reporting compulsory for signatories from 2020. The organisation has adopted recommendations from the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures and included its indicators in its reporting framework. This was previously voluntary, but in 2018 and 2019 more than 480 investors representing up to $42trn put in responses, showing the scale of support.
The hope is that with a better understanding of the risks and wider access to the solutions available, we can futureproof both the natural and built environment.
Jonathan Hale is senior sustainability consultant at Savills.