I am pretty sure that outside of the education sector, construction must be one of the most measured in the UK, with seemingly endless rounds of targets added each year.
Now, however, at least one significant advisory body believes that more needs to be done – and soon.
In May 2019, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) recommended that the UK government adopts a real zero carbon target.
The Committee wants to see the UK reduce greenhouse gases to zero by 2050, with a 2030 goal for large-scale low- or zero-carbon heating installations.
Effectively, the CCC has looked at current progress towards the current 80% reduction by 2030 and decided that we are ‘proceeding too slowly, even for the current target’. It also describes current plans as ‘insufficiently ambitious’.
Let’s see a focus on the operational costs of buildings rather than the capital expenditure – which is something that has always hampered progress towards better energy performance.
The challenge is persuading specifiers to move away from the ‘familiar’ but less efficient equipment on the market
Advice will become reality
The CCC is an independent advisory body that monitors the UK’s progress towards environmental targets, including building a low carbon economy and preparing for climate change. Although its role is advisory, the CCC has proved influential enough that its ‘suggestions’ should be regarded as likely to become reality.
So what could that target look like for construction and buildings?
Firstly, the CCC report states that ‘all sectors will need to reduce emissions close to zero without offsetting.’.
Clearly, the Committee is awake to any potential fiddling with the numbers, because the report also adds: ‘the target cannot be met simply by adding mass removal of CO2 onto existing plans for the 80% target’.
Design is affected
The design of buildings has already been affected by targets on energy use and emissions. But if the CCC recommendations are adopted, we can certainly expect to see further requirements.
Heating, for example, is highlighted as ripe for change – with a switch away from gas for the domestic sector already on the horizon.
And as the UK switches to greater reliance on renewable sources for its electricity, we can also expect to see building management systems responding to shifts in the grid.
The move towards Prosumerism
There is a small but growing trend towards buildings as prosumers – both consuming and producing their own energy and heat. Advanced building controls and smart kit are going to play a crucial role in helping designers, installers and owners adopt to the new realities of a low-carbon world.
The trend in major HVAC systems such as heating and cooling has been towards lower energy use for many years now. Manufacturers are pushing the boundaries of what’s achievable.
Their challenge has often been persuading specifiers to move away from the ‘familiar’ but less efficient (and cheaper) equipment on the market.
It is to be hoped that one of the key changes we will see is a focus on the operational costs of buildings rather than the capital expenditure – which is something that has always hampered progress towards better energy performance.
Achieving the impossible
The CCC is ambitious for the UK, and what the Committee is asking for is a tough call.
But it also holds out some encouragement.
The UK’s Climate Change Act was the world’s first legally-binding framework for tackling climate change and it remains one of the strongest in the world today.
Although a small country, the UK can take a lead on helping to deal with the worst effects of climate change - to which it has historically been a significant contributor.
Not only would reduction of our own GHGs to zero by 2050 be a significant contribution, it would also show other countries that what seems impossible can in fact be achieved.