Walk the talk

The government has legislated that the UK will be zero carbon by 2050 – so what is it doing to achieve this for its own estate and activities? Julie Godefroy explains

Following recommendations by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the UK government has legislated for the country to target net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, amending the Climate Change Act, which previously required an 80% reduction.

This will need significant effort in all sectors of the economy and society, and scrutiny of the government’s plans by expert bodies and civil society. As a first step, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has launched an inquiry into the government’s plans for reducing its own carbon emissions to net zero. The EAC is interested in a broad range of measures that can be deployed to reach net zero emissions, covering:

  • Climate change mitigation and adaptation
  • Operational and embodied carbon, and water use
  • Buildings, fleet, procurement, and behaviour-change measures
  • Co-benefits – for example, from creating healthier and greener places
  • Collaboration with the devolved administrations.

CIBSE will submit a response to the inquiry. We very much support this initiative and have advocated regularly that government should lead by example. This would show commitment and give investors and industry confidence that a transition to zero carbon is here to stay. Because of the size of the public sector, this would also help significantly in building skills, capacity and commercial viability for application in other sectors. For example, we have repeatedly highlighted:

  • The failure of Display Energy Certificates to drive better energy performance, as illustrated by the fact that many prominent government buildings are E-, F- or G-rated
  • The opportunity to use refurbishment of the public sector estate to support development of the retrofit sector. 

To maximise the benefits of public sector leadership, it is crucial that lessons are gathered and made public, and that they are easily accessible and widely disseminated. Advocating this will be an important part of our response, and to inform our submission to the inquiry, we are interested in views from CIBSE members on:

  • What must be done to achieve a net-zero focussed government, including interim targets and deadlines, procurement processes, monitoring and enforcement
  • How lessons from public projects can be disseminated: should government use a dedicated platform or make use of existing ones – and, if so, which one(s)? In addition, what level of information do you think is required and useful, while being manageable?   
  • What government is already doing towards achieving net-zero carbon for its estates, what works well, and what is insufficient or counterproductive. We would welcome examples of public sector projects with which you have been involved (anonymised, if necessary), to highlight where current policies and practices may not be delivering the desired energy and carbon performance
  • How much flexibility should be provided through ‘offsets’, such as achieving carbon savings elsewhere and the use of ‘green electricity’ tariffs. 
  • Examples of organisations having achieved, or being on their way to achieving, net-zero status – and how this was defined and the measures used to achieve it.

Details of the inquiry, which closes on 15 August, can be found here. If you would like to contribute to the CIBSE response, please send your thoughts by 8 August to JGodefroy@cibse.org

Read CIBSE’s response to the recent consultation on how to better incorporate social value criteria – including climate change – in procurement, here.

It is crucial that lessons are gathered, made public, and are easily accessible and widely disseminated


Edge Climate Action Roundtable: On 20 June, representatives from 25 built and natural environment organisations and other stakeholders met the chair of the CCC, Lord Deben, to discuss the need for action in the face of climate breakdown.

They accepted, in full, the CCC’s recommendations that the UK must – and would – be able to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and welcomed the government’s announcement that this was to be enshrined in legislation shortly.

CIBSE and others agreed to collaborate on an urgent and concerted response to achieving the 2050 target; to continue working together to establish shared standards and practice; and keep developing professional resources, capacity and competencies within the sector, capable of achieving that aim – domestically and internationally. CIBSE has also accepted the invitation to cooperate with the CCC.

CIBSE Climate Action Plan: To increase our efforts on climate change mitigation and adaptation, and identify where we can best work with others and help the industry, CIBSE has created a climate action plan, mapping its activities. A first draft was published in the Journal two months ago; it has since been built upon, following comments from members, collaboration activities identified at the Edge roundtable, and comments from the CIBSE Board. The latest draft is available to view here. Please get in touch with comments or to get involved.

Building Services Engineers Declare: Independently, and following similar initiatives in other professions – such as Architects Declare – building services engineers have created a declaration on climate change and loss of biodiversity, with pledges on actions that signatories will take.


Public Health England (PHE) has recently published draft guidelines on indoor air quality in homes. These include recommendations for policy-makers and professionals operating in the health and built environment sectors, covering the design and operation of buildings.

CIBSE has worked closely with PHE on the production of the upcoming revised TM40 on Health and Wellbeing, including contributing on the topic of indoor air quality.

Details of the consultation are available here. The consultation closes on 9 August, so to contribute to the CIBSE response, please send your thoughts by 2 August to JGodefroy@cibse.org

Dr Julie Godefroy is technical manager at CIBSE