Climate action now

Following the latest IPCC report, Julie Godefroy looks at CIBSE’s work on this critical issue to date – and the practical steps you can take to support it

Julie Godefroy

I recently found a copy of my 2006 PhD thesis, the first pages of which quote the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2001, stating ‘there is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the past 50 years is attributable to human activities’. So, the organisation’s latest report, this month, saying there is ‘irrevocable evidence’ for this should come as no surprise to anyone but the most ardent deniers. The report also paints a daunting picture of the scale of potential consequences and the action needed to avoid the worst of it.

There is much that CIBSE and many others in the industry have been working on, which can help us all act today and plan for years to come.

CIBSE Climate Action Plan – 2021 update

In 2019, to increase its efforts on climate change, CIBSE produced its first Climate Action Plan, covering the areas in which we have a duty and the ability to act as a professional institution – obviously in the guidance and training we provide, but also in requirements from members, accredited courses, how we act as an institution, and so on. We committed to review the plan regularly, and we published the second annual update in August. This includes several important measures, including:

  • Our move to an ethical investment fund
  • New and upcoming guidance on topics including embodied carbon (the TM65 calculation methodology will be followed by additional guidance on areas such as heating systems, internal adaptation, heat pumps, electrical engineering, heat networks, and hot water)
  • Ongoing development of our energy benchmarking platform; for the first time, this includes domestic benchmarks
  • A new award to recognise work on assessing and reducing embodied carbon
  • A new project data spreadsheet . This should facilitate entries to awards, and can be used outside of the awards by project teams that would like to share project in-use performance data with CIBSE and contribute to our energy benchmarking platform
  • A commitment to introduce mandatory CPD on safety and climate change. We will work with our CPD panel on details and timing of implementation
  • The creation of a working group next year to review our corporate grade entry criteria, and how they could better incorporate climate change competence
  • Upcoming revised guidelines for the higher education courses we accredit, to put more emphasis on climate change and reflect the cross-industry Climate Framework. These guidelines, once approved, will be implemented along with the latest version of the Accreditation of Higher Education
    Programmes, AHEP4, with a transition period between January 2022 and September 2024.

The plan also includes additional actions that could be taken, and CIBSE is very interested in feedback on these options, as well as additional suggestions. For example, some companies have started to offer their clients a net-zero option on all projects, whether or not they have requested it. Have you tried something similar ; if so, what impact has it had? If not, why? Should CIBSE support and incentivise this and, if so, how?

CIC Climate Action Plan

In 2019, the Construction Industry Council (CIC) sought to encourage collective action on climate change across built environment institutions. This resulted in Carbon Zero, a cross-industry climate action plan adopted in June 2021 by CIBSE and more than 25 other institutions, including the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), Institution of Structural Engineers, Landscape Institute, Royal Town Planning Institute , and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (but not yet the Institution of Civil Engineers ).

Many of its actions are already embedded in the 2021 CIBSE plan, with additional ones beyond the remit of any one single institution and relying on collaboration. We are committed to produce, by COP26, a programme for implementation of all actions.

How much carbon can we spend?

The severity of the consequences presented by the IPCC makes it clear that, along with the end goal (net zero), we need to think in terms of cumulative emissions, or carbon ‘budgets’: the sooner and steeper the emissions cuts, the less can be emitted in total. This doesn’t mean we should take a short-term view; initial investment in retrofit is clearly required for buildings to need less energy, emit less, and be adapted to further changes in climate. It does mean that we need a clear understanding of capital carbon expenditure, and reasonable confidence of operational carbon savings and other benefits to justify that initial expenditure.

Two recent initiatives are advancing work on this issue: Part Z is a proposal that is gathering support from all corners of the industry for the regulation of embodied carbon in buildings. It proposes that this should be done through Building Regulations, with a ‘pretend’ draft Approved Document as an initial proposal of how this could be achieved.

Some companies have started to offer their clients a net-zero option on all projects, whether or not they have requested it

The UK Green Building Council’s (UKGBC) draft zero carbon roadmap offers a detailed assessment of measures required across the built environment to achieve net zero. This could provide a really valuable breakdown of energy use and carbon emissions for different building types, both new-build and retrofitted. From this, we could derive targets such as energy-use intensities, complementing and testing the ones already available from the UKGBC, the London Energy Transformation Initiative and RIBA, and, ideally, informing the government’s upcoming operational rating scheme.

Another strength of the roadmap is that it includes total embodied carbon, including that emitted abroad and in international transport; this differs from the UK’s legal target and Climate Change Committee budgets, which only include UK-borne emissions, so do not provide a complete assessment of carbon costs vs benefits.

This also means we should ‘do it once and do it well’, so projects won’t need redoing or demolishing later on.

Meanwhile, permitted development rights for housing – seen as beneficial in the short term to encourage reuse – need careful consideration, on account of well-documented issues with the substandard housing they create, associated health and safety risks, and missed opportunities for energy and carbon improvements.

What you can do

We could always do more and do it faster, so please contact or if you would like to support activities in our Climate Action Plan, or if you have additional suggestions for how we could support your actions.

You can also support our work by sharing in-use performance data from your projects (this can be anonymous), contributing to future guidance and the evidence based on what is possible. We also have existing and planned workstreams where volunteers can make a real difference, including benchmarking and metrics for performance, electrical engineering, and low carbon heat.

Finally, it is clear that government action is required alongside industry leadership, including more ambitious regulations for the whole-life carbon performance of new and existing buildings. You can support existing industry calls for government action on: