The publication of the Net Zero report has ambitious targets but is it enough? And is it quick enough?

On the 2nd May 2019 the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) published a ground-breaking report titled ‘Net Zero - The UK’s Contribution to Stopping Global Warming’.

In 2016 the CCC advised the government to NOT set a Net Zero target, which I have to say I thought was completely bizarre at the time.

But, it has now had a change of heart by declaring “we now conclude that the evidence supports setting a net-zero target in the UK and that this evidence is robust: a net-zero target should now be set.” This is major step forward, but is it enough?

The report states that the UK should vigorously pursue an ambitious target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) to net-zero by 2050, ending the UK’s contribution to global warming within 30 years. Scotland should set a Net-Zero GHG target for 2045 (as it has a low population relative to its land area and has adopted significant green technology) whereas Wales should set a target of 95% reduction by 2050, rather than net-zero, due to it’s high dependence on agriculture.

This is where the government needs to make massive change!

George Clarke George Clarke Architect and TV presenter

More speed needed

You could argue that we don’t have 30 years, that we need to do more faster.

The report argues that it simply isn’t possible or credible for the country to reach net-zero emissions earlier than 2050.

Personally I’d love us to hit net-zero by 2030.

But, anyone can pluck targets and dates out of the air in the hope that things can be achieved better and faster.

Maybe they just can’t because we as a society aren’t willing to make the huge sacrifices that are needed for massive change to happen faster.

What a waste

Just today I went to the supermarket to do a big shop with my daughter Iona. I drove my electric car there. We love that car and I have to admit it makes me feel good not driving a car that pumps out earth-warming gases.

I try to buy as many products that are grown and produced in the UK because the number of lorries and planes transporting food across many, many miles is too much.

I’ve even stopped buying mineral water collected from overseas sources, buying UK mineral water instead so I know it has travelled less miles. Many say to be green I should drink London tap water, but I hate the taste. Pathetic I know. I avoid fruit and veg that has travelled long distances and buy British instead.

I don’t buy plastic bags and reuse fabric bags.

But, when I got home and unloaded the shopping I still can’t believe how much packaging there is. It’s insane. I recycle as much as I can, but I actually feel guilty about the amount of stuff in the recycling bag when its full ... AND it fills really quickly.

I feel guilty every time I put the recycling bags out. Do we really need that much stuff? Maybe we do because of food hygiene standards, but it still seems nuts to me.

And if I’m consuming that much stuff then the amount being consumed across the planet must be off the scale!

But what do we do? Not go to the supermarket? This is just one example where we should change faster, but I can’t see us doing it at scale and fast enough. So, a 2050 target is probably more realistic.

Hope and despair

On a positive note the UK has proven that a major country in the developed world can make significant, positive changes for the environment. We have reduced our carbon emissions by 40% from 1990 levels, while the economy has grown by 70% over the same period.

We are also innovating at a very advanced level creating new green industries that create jobs and benefit the economy. As an example, the UK now has the largest market for off-shore wind in the world.

But, there are industries literally closer to ‘home’ where I despair.

The dark ages

The house building industry is stuck in the dark ages. Every single home built in Britain should be zero carbon in my view by 2030 if not before. The technology exists already for us to have homes that are zero-carbon and incredibly green, but we are miles off.

The big house builders argue that we can’t afford to do it as it will put up house prices. I’ve argued the case before that if ecological standards for homes are increased across the entire system, so everyone has to do it, then house prices shouldn’t increase, but development land prices should fall. It is land that is overpriced.

The cost of building a house compared to its resale price is actually quite low.

And the cost of insulating a home, installing triple glazing to the highest possible ecological standard and adding in renewable heating is relatively cheap in comparison with current sales prices of a home.

Every home being built across Britain TODAY should be low-carbon or zero-carbon. We know we need to do it so let’s get on with it!

The elephant in the room

But, with all the developments in material technology and ecology, I still can’t believe that we are using concrete on such a massive scale.

It is unbelievable how environmentally unfriendly concrete is and we are using billions of tonnes of it every single year across the world.

Yes, there are many green alternatives such a grasscrete, hempcrete, rammed earth and even straw bale houses, but how many of these have you seen in the construction of UK homes? I’ve seen about 50 in my entire career!

Timber is one of the greatest, beautiful and environmentally friendly materials on the planet, yet I hardly see any timber frame houses being built buy the biggest house builders.

This is where the government needs to make massive change!

No time to lose

The Committee on Climate Change stated “The UK must make firm plans for housing and domestic heat”. This means that the UK housing minister needs to have the guts to make radical changes to the way we build, heat and cool homes across the country.

They need to stand up to the pressure being imposed on them by an industry driven by massive profit and they need to put fuel poverty and the built environment first.

In the words of the Chairman of the CCC, The RT Hon the Lord Deben “we must start at once; there is no time to lose.”

George Clarke is an architect, writer, lecturer and TV presenter, a founder of TV production company Amazing Productions, and creative director of George Clarke + Partners. He is also the inspiration behind MOBIE an educational charity which seeks to train and inspire young people to innovate in the design and construction of HOMES in the UK and abroad.