This week’s COP28 summit provided a suitable point at which to assess the UK’s progress in decarbonising its built environment, with reports from RICS and UKGBC, among others, providing clear lines in the sand for the industry. Lines scratched in sand being an apt metaphor, given the likelihood that they will be washed away by a rising tide.

Lem Bingley

Lem Bingley, PW editor

UKGBC compiled a progress report on its own Net Zero Whole Life Carbon Roadmap, first published two years ago, which made for grim reading. The update set out the pace of change required to reach emissions neutrality in the sector by 2050.

“We are not moving fast enough,” the report concluded. “In fact, we need to move nearly twice as fast to make up the shortfall and get back on track by 2025.”

To give a measure of the scale of the gap between where we are and where we need to be, the shortfall in carbon savings is equivalent to taking one in every six cars off the road, the trade body advised.

“The timeline to meet net zero cannot be extended [and] the later we leave it, the harder it will be,” wrote UKGBC chief executive Smith Mordak in the report. “Industry and government need to work hand in hand to create decisive change and bridge the emissions gap.”

Meanwhile, RICS has gathered sentiment data from property professionals about investor and occupier interest in securing greener buildings. In both cases, about two thirds of UK respondents said they had seen a rise in appetite for sustainable and climate-adapted buildings over the past year, with about one in seven UK respondents seeing a significant upsurge.

But about three in five respondents to the RICS study said high initial costs still presented a big barrier to progress, while two in five saw a lack of evidence or other uncertainty about return on investment for sustainability improvements.

In the report, RICS called for greater clarity about the future trajectory of Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards “to boost investment into energy efficiency measures and create greener buildings”.

Sector-by-sector data released by proptech firm Deepki last month outlined where the biggest and smallest strides had been made. The building management specialist gathers detailed consumption information across its customer base, turning it into an annual ESG Index measuring progress, or the lack of it, toward net zero.

It calculated that average carbon dioxide emissions per square foot of UK property had fallen most rapidly in the retail sector, down by 17.6% year on year over the past 12 months, with the offices sector cutting emissions by 7.0% on average and the logistics sector achieving a 6.2% reduction.

The hotels sector, by contrast, increased average emissions per square foot by 3.4% over the year – a rise linked to improving occupancy rates, Deepki suggested.

Deepki chief executive and co-founder Vincent Bryant said the latest figures revealed where comparatively rapid progress was being made but added: “It needs to accelerate if we are to halt the devastating impact of climate change and protect asset value.”

With a general election looming, it seems abundantly clear there will be neither carrot nor stick from government to dramatically increase the pace of decarbonisation. If things are to improve next year, it’s up to us.

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