Where we need regulatory change to hit net zero

If the UK is to reach net zero by 2050, the industry needs to take action now. Julie Godefroy highlights the key policy decisions that must be made in 2020

Last year, the UK committed to net-zero carbon by 2050. The next 12 months will test how this is put into practice: Building Regulations Part L reviews; the annual UN Conference of the Parties (COP) on climate change, in Glasgow; a Treasury review on how net-zero could be funded; and the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) report on the UK’s 6th carbon budget, covering 2033-2037.

This will be the first budget designed to the net-zero target, and it is expected to show a change of trajectory; we cannot expect a drastic ‘catch up’ step in 2033 and must adopt a steeper reduction curve now.

By 2033, we will need:

  • New buildings with exemplary levels of energy consumption and peak demand, and achieving net-zero carbon or ‘zero carbon ready’ pending full decarbonisation of the electricity grid
  • Emissions from the existing stock to start reducing through deep retrofit
  • All of this to be achieved in practice,rather than in design or as-built targets.

CIBSE recently signed a joint statement calling for regulations on actual performance. Contact us if you would like to sign it in support and commit to voluntary disclosure for your own buildings or projects.

New buildings

The proposals in the 2020 Part L and 2025 Future Homes Standard consultation are far from the rate and scale of change required. This would delay us and create yet more buildings that will need retrofitting if the UK is to achieve net zero. CIBSE has received an unprecedented number of contributions to this consultation, a large majority expressing frustration at this lack of ambition.

Last month’s column, ‘Action and data for 2020’, summarised key concerns, and the draft CIBSE response is available on the CIBSE consultation page. Any individual or organisation can submit their own response to government until 7 February.

Existing buildings

The real challenge is, of course, to make the existing stock zero carbon – which is why regulations must get new buildings right as soon as possible. For retrofit to happen at scale, we must capture all available opportunities to trigger works, including sales, leases and occasions when other works are carried out. Currently, the two main instruments to do so are the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards(Mees), and Part L. A consultation on Part L for existing buildings is expected this year.With regards to Mees, government recently consulted on tightening the requirements,proposing that non-domestic private rented buildings should achieve an EPC of B by 2030.

While the ambition is welcome, this suffers from similar problems to Part L: it only considers the designed and as-built asset, covering just some of the energy uses and without a check of actual in-use performance.

So the CIBSE response to that consultation argued for:

  • A review of the EPC methodology, which could also benefit the Part L methodology
  • Improvement of EPC recommendations
  • Reports to become meaningful retrofit plans
  • A regulatory framework covering in use performance.

Retrofit is high on the agenda of the 6th carbon budget, with the CCC interested in what can be achieved, whether the existing stock could become near-zero carbon earlier than 2050, and how to support it. CIBSE is gathering information on the following areas to inform our policy advice and best support industry with technical guidance, training, events, and so on:

  • Do you have deep retrofit case studies? Ideally, this would include holistic in-use performance data – for example,considering energy and operational carbon, but also factors such as fabric, indoor air quality, comfort, user satisfaction, whole-life carbon, and heritage impacts.
  • Design and modelling of existing buildings: whole building approaches and risk assessments (in line withPAS 2035), including air, heat and moisture flows in buildings of traditional construction.
  • Heat networks: these could make a contribution in areas where networks are already in place and extensive retrofit of the existing stock may be too difficult, costly, or unacceptable for heritage conservation. How do we adapt and retrofit existing networks originally designed for sources such as boilers and gas-fired CHP, to low-carbon sources? What carbon savings can be achieved?

Please contact technical@cibse.org if you would like to give us your views on these, suggestions for other themes, or to be involved in these work streams.


Changes to Part L and Part F of the Building Regulations consultationbit.ly/CJFeb20JG1

Proposals for the MEES for non-domestic private rented sector, CIBSEconsultation response bit.ly/CJFeb20JG2 

Dr Julie Godefroy is technical manager at CIBSE