A sense of purpose

While government is preoccupied with Brexit, two key advisory bodies have called for decisive action to deliver new infrastructure and renewable energy, and to meet future carbon-reduction targets, says Hywel Davies

Two key reports in the past month lay bare the extent of the challenge the UK faces in meeting its infrastructure, energy and carbon goals over the next 30 years. While written for the UK, the challenges apply ñ in some way ñ around the world and to all readers.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) issued its annual progress report1 at the end of June and it is marked by a change of tone and approach. The broadly supportive acknowledgement of progress made and continuing opportunities is replaced by a blunt assessment that we need to do more. It says we need a long-term plan to support simple, low-cost options, and to stick to it without ëchopping and changing policyí, with ëeffective regulation and strict enforcementí. Readers will recognise all these messages from the past decade, and CIBSE has reinforced them, time and again, in responses to consultations by government and others.

The committee is clear that the progress in reducing emissions from electricity generation masks failures in other sectors. It notes that 75% of emissions reductions since 2012 have come from the power sector, and that this has been achieved through clear goals, ambitious strategy and well-designed polices. Now we need to apply that lesson to other sectors.

The CCC highlights four specific areas where policy has ëchopped and changedí:

  • Zero carbon homes, replaced by lower standards that would require costly retrofits in future
  • Reduced Feed-in Tariffs, with a 56% cut in renewables investment between 2016 and 2017
  • Efficiency measures in buildings, which the CCC says have cost 30,000 energy-efficiency jobs
  • Carbon capture and storage, where the delays will increase future costs of decarbonisation.

Again, readers will be very familiar with these issues, which have frequently been addressed in this column and the Journal. The committee has decided the time has come to get tougher; to spell out the real urgency of decarbonising our building stock and the need to start now. With a review of Part L of the Building Regulations due soon, to meet EU obligations and to support the Clean Growth Strategy and Grand Clean Growth Challenge, there is a golden opportunity to address this. As we prepare for the Part L review, CIBSE members have the chance to tell us how they would like to see it improved by contributing via the CIBSE LinkedIn group discussion page.

The time has come to get tougher; to spell out the urgency of decarbonising our buildings

In July, the National Infrastructure Assessment was published.2 Covering energy, digital technology, roads, cities, floods and waste, it sets out a clear pathway to deliver the infrastructure needs and priorities of the UK in a timely way. It also sets out a golden opportunity in energy: ëMaking a switch to low carbon and renewable sources for both the countryís power and heating, combined with a move towards electric vehicles, would mean the customer of 2050 would pay the same in real terms for their energy as today.í

Achieving this requires government ambition and increasing deployment of renewables, however, plus a low-cost, low carbon heating system supported by energy-efficient building stock.

Low-cost, low carbon heating is likened to the challenge of decarbonising the grid 10 years ago. As the CCC notes, however, we have seen huge progress here, with clear leadership and ambition leading to the power sector achieving the lionís share of carbon reductions since 2012.

Professor David Fisk, National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) member and CIBSE past president, said: ëFalls in the prices of renewable technologies have made them increasingly viable as one of this countryís main sources of electrical power. We need to continue encouraging development of wind and solar energy sources to meet our legally binding climate-change targets. By investing now in built infrastructure, and finding the best low carbon sources for heating our homes and businesses, costs will be kept down, helped by savings from the switch to low carbon electric vehicles.í

The NIC and the CCC could not be clearer ñ we have come a long way in the power sector, and we have a long way to go to decarbonise the building stock. We need ambition, and we need clear standards for efficient low carbon buildings to which we stick firmly.

Government is committed to respond to both reports, so we will get an early indication of its intentions. We need a sense of purpose, clear policy and consistent delivery to achieve the low carbon built environment envisaged by the NIC and the CCC. We need to seize the moment now.


1 Reducing UK emissions – 2018 Progress Report to Parliament.

2 National Infrastructure Assessment.

Hywel Davies is technical director at CIBSE