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Paul Groves explores the government’s latest green initiative

Prime Minister Boris Johnson appears set on a course to make the UK the greenest it has ever been.

Obviously that does not necessarily mean easing back on a raft of planning reforms to encourage greater residential and commercial development, or the multi-billion pound infrastructure projects destined to cut a swathe of new road and rail routes through the country.

But in recent weeks both the Prime Minister and Chancellor Rishi Sunak have outlined an ambitious set of environmentally-focused policies and proposals that will impact on pretty much every aspect of our daily lives.

The latest announcement – coming before the UK co-hosts the Climate Ambition Summit on Saturday 12 December, which will coincide with the fifth anniversary of the historic Paris Agreement – is arguably the most headline-grabbing yet. 

The move to a greener, resilient economy is of paramount importance

Paul Groves Paul Groves Editor of Specification magazine

Recognising the urgency

The Prime Minister has unveiled a target to reduce the UK’s emissions by at least 68% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. He says it recognises the “urgency to go further to tackle climate change”, and it commits the UK to cutting emissions at the fastest rate of any major economy so far. The Prime Minister does love being world-leading, it seems.

He is also possibly positioning himself as a close ally in the fight against climate change to President-elect Joe Biden. The US has scaled back its green and sustainability targets under President Trump, but Mr Biden has already clearly stated his aim of getting the country back in step with the Paris Agreement.

The President-elect is believed to be readying the US for a similarly ambitious target on emissions and many are predicting a central role for environmental campaigner and former Vice President Al Gore in Biden’s new-look government.

Cautious optimism

So is this a watershed moment for the UK when it comes to the environment?

It is safe to say there is cautious optimism within the industry for the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for renewable energy, creating net-zero buildings and developments and improving the sustainability picture, along with wider proposals such as a commitment to electric and hybrid vehicles.

Arguably, construction and architecture has already embraced the concept of sustainability over the last decade. It has certainly been very high on the agenda of product manufacturers for many years and RIBA has set out its strong commitment to the environment on behalf of its members.

In response to the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a so-called “Green Industrial Revolution” back in November – which really kick-started this stronger environmental focus - RIBA President, Alan Jones, said: “The Government has gone some way to recognise the vital role of the built environment in a green economic recovery and it is positive to see implementation of the Future Homes Standard accelerated. Additional funding to improve energy efficiency - particularly through the one-year extension to the Green Homes Grant - is also welcome.”

At the time he also sounded a note of caution that even more was required to push the UK forward and he added: “The Government needs a long-term plan, creative solutions and to act with greater urgency if we are to meet net-zero targets.”

Maybe Mr Jones and his members have now got their wish with the PM’s new emissions target?

Delivering net zero

Meanwhile, the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) has published new guidance, Unlocking the Delivery of Net Zero Carbon Buildings, which examines how current barriers to the delivery of net zero carbon buildings can be overcome.

Alastair Mant, Head of Business Transformation at UKGBC, said: “The race to net zero is on and its fantastic to see many developers and design teams setting bold ambitions. Achieving the necessary reductions in embodied and operational carbon requires large scale changes to how buildings are designed, constructed, and operated.

“There are many barriers along the way and we must work quickly to identify them and the corresponding opportunities to overcome them. We have created this guidance to point developers and design teams towards some existing opportunities and we will keep sharing solutions in order to accelerate the transition to net zero carbon buildings.”

So after what has undoubtedly been a number of Government-sponsored false starts since 2000 as regards environmental policy and commitment, the penny does appear to be dropping in Downing Street that bold promises are no longer enough and clear action is what is long-overdue.

Catching up

Product manufacturers might well argue that the rest are now finally starting to play catch up.

The industry’s commitment has been strong for some time, with massive investment in R&D and technology in recent years in sectors such as renewable energy that has led to the creation of truly world-leading sustainable systems and solutions.

Mitsubishi Electric is a global leader in this drive to create more environmentally friendly products and systems and its commitment is matched by other companies in a wide range of product sectors.

Stephen Phipson, CEO of Make UK, the manufacturers’ association, believes we are seeing a “turning point in the effort that our country is making to achieve its net zero target”.

“The need to reduce our emissions and move to a greener resilient economy is of paramount importance,” he continued.

“It is exactly the signal that our manufacturing industry needs to have the confidence to invest in these clean technologies of the future that will enable us to make a low-carbon economy a reality. Our manufacturing sector is poised to contribute to the creation of thousands of green jobs in the country’s hardest hit areas, to make the green products and provide the services needed for a net zero future.

“The pandemic has highlighted how digital and green technologies are essential to make our economy and society resilient to economic and climate disruptions and we need to shift the pendulum towards growth based on the technologies of the future.”

Paul Groves is editor of Specification magazine