Still a long way to go on journey to net zero

Environmental issues are taking centre stage in a year where the UK will host the UN Climate Change Summit in Glasgow in November. Cundall’s Simon Wyatt looks at progress toward net zero made so far in 2020 and the next steps for the built environment.

Simon Wyatt, sustainability partner at Cundall.

The launch of the London Energy Transformation Initiative’s (LETI) Climate Emergency Design Guide this week, is a significant step for the UK’s built environment toward achieving net zero carbon by 2050. In an industry renowned for its resistance to change and lack of collaboration, the past few months have been nothing short of a revelation as climate action intensives.

Since declaring a climate emergency in the second half of 2019, we have seen the industry pull together under the guidance of the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) to develop a framework and definition for net zero carbon. 

This was quickly followed by the Royal Institute of British Architects 2030 Climate Challenge, setting energy intensity targets for operational energy consumption and upfront embodied carbon. These targets have now been ratified by LETI’s newly released Climate Emergency Design Guide which looks at the targets for new buildings in greater detail and demonstrates that achieving net zero for all new buildings by 2030 is a realistic goal for all.

With industry leaders now committed to either the Better Buildings Partnership (BBP) or the UKGBC’s Advancing Net Zero campaign, the next step will be to embed these targets into local planning policy and then bring the whole market up to the same standard by improving the Building Regulations. 

Cundall is a huge advocate for sustainability in the built environment, and the business has been assisting these industry bodies to define net zero targets and continue to revolutionise the industry’s approach to net zero throughout 2020. As we strive to embed these targets into legislation, we must ensure that they are not considered in isolation, but as part of a whole life carbon approach – addressing all impacts associated with the construction, operation and demolition of buildings and infrastructure.

This is already starting to happen at regional levels, and Cundall is currently working with the Greater London Authority (GLA) to launch new standards for whole life carbon for referable schemes in February. As part of the new recommendations, the GLA will require developments to report emissions using the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors methodology, with a phased introduction of targets for upfront embodied carbon and full whole life carbon emissions.

The Building Regulations need updating, and while our current regulations are still somewhat behind the nation’s zero carbon ambition, given the current momentum to drive change in the industry, it is looking hopeful that we will continue to take strides towards our net zero future throughout 2020. 

With COP26 taking place in Glasgow in November, and the chance to showcase the UK’s net zero future to the world, 2020 really is ‘The Year of Net Zero’ (#YearofNetZero).

This is great news for all post-2020 new buildings, but what of the 28 million existing homes and millions of existing non-domestic buildings that need to be net zero by 2050? It’s up to us all to pave the way, and Cundall is working with clients to ensure we are leading the conversation on how we go about decarbonising their existing assets and portfolios. 

In the journey to net zero carbon, it feels like we’ve reached base camp, but there is still a long way to go.

Simon Wyatt is a sustainability partner at the engineering consultancy, Cundall.

If you would like to contact Andy Walker about this, or any other story, please email awalker@infrastructure-intelligence.com.