Thursday, 23 July 2015

UK Zero Carbon Goal Receives Hammer Blow

By Neelum Mohammed
Associate Director at CBRE 

In an unexpected, and controversial, move this month the Treasury has canned plans to make new homes carbon neutral from 2016. Similarly, it is also shelving zero carbon standards for non-residential buildings which had been due for inception in 2019.

Earlier this year, the outcome of the Housing Standards Review and the subsequent Deregulation Act 2015 saw the removal of the Code for Sustainable Homes standard  on new housing. At the time, it was understood that housing developments less than 10 units would be exempt from energy efficiency standards but everything else would need to comply via Part L of the building regulations. 

This u-turn means there is now no intention to proceed with the zero carbon Allowable Solutions carbon offsetting scheme, and the forecasted energy efficiency drive in 2016 via technical  building standards.

In facilitating energy efficiency through the technical building standards, it was considered that UK housing would be positioned on par with its Nordic and northern European counterparts, managing energy bills and reducing fuel poverty. For non domestic buildings, the strategy was to encourage energy efficient design. 

In 2008, the Government made the zero carbon commitment to work towards the Climate Change Act’s goal of reducing carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. The removal of this commitment undermines the last 7 years worth of innovation and industry progression towards energy efficient design to ultimately deliver zero carbon buildings. Furthermore, it's now unclear how the Climate Change Act's commitment will be attained.

In its place, the government has instead announced it ‘will keep the energy standards under review, recognising that existing measures to increase energy efficiency of new buildings should be allowed time to become established’. It has also been reported that the Department for Communities & Local Government are looking to discard the zero carbon commitment for non-domestic buildings too. Granted that the zero carbon commitment could be delivered in the long term, however, without a scale for improvement this has created uncertainty and diminishes industry confidence.  An open letter from the UKGBC to the government ratifies this feeling.

For both non domestic and domestic developers this may be considered positive news with regards to short term cost savings, but this does not reflect the long term savings for the end user. This change appears not to consider the missed long-term opportunities in further innovation and manufacturing; in particular low carbon products and services; employment growth and research. This decision could ultimately hinder UK's leadership place within the international forum too, particularly at the Paris 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference at the end of the year.

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