Construction must tackle the climate crisis

Richard Broad, projects & communications manager, Good Homes Alliance explains how the construction industry can contribute to net zero.

2023 was a record-breaking year for all the wrong reasons. The summer of 2023 was Earth’s hottest since global records began. Leading climate scientists suggest the world has not yet passed a “tipping point” for climate change, but we are getting dangerously close.
    
“The record-shattering heatwaves, wildfires and floods destroying lives in the US, Europe, India, China and beyond in 2023 have raised an alarming question: have humanity’s relentless carbon emissions finally pushed the climate crisis into a new and accelerating phase of destruction?”
    
The construction industry is playing its part to decarbonise, but is it going fast and far enough? Government announcements made in December 2023 will not help our cause.

The ‘Future’ Homes Standard

The building fabric options proposed in the recently announced Future Homes and Buildings Standards consultation are even less ambitious than those consulted on previously. “Under the Future Homes Standard, we will be pushing building fabric standards further than ever before…”, MHCLG stated in 2019. This is clearly not the case.
    
There are some helpful clarifications in the consultation such as the expectation that gas, hybrid and hydrogen-ready boilers will not comply in the new Home Energy Model assessment methodology. Plus, moves to further analyse the performance gap in new home energy performance are welcomed.
    
However, we believe an approach which relies principally on a decarbonised grid for the successful adoption of all-electric systems to meet our net zero commitment is flawed; is vulnerable to shortfalls in energy capacity, and still exposes some residents to high energy bills.
    
The Good Homes Alliance (GHA) will be responding to the consultation on behalf of its membership in the new year, before the 6th March 2024 deadline. Are the proposals really fit for the ‘future’?

Progressive planning policy

For the last few years, local authorities (LAs) have been leading the march towards net zero emissions, with 83 per cent of UK councils now having made climate emergency declarations.  Several LAs have produced new Local Plans that seek to increase the scale and pace of net zero outcomes for both new and existing buildings, setting clear Energy Use Intensity (EUI) targets which go above and beyond building regulations.

These councils are quite rightly held up by the GHA and others as beacons of best practice, who carry the torch of real progress towards net zero. Yet rather than support and enable the whole country to advance towards a net zero future, the Government appears to have taken the decision to block this progress.

A Written Ministerial Statement (WMS) on ‘Planning - Local Energy Efficiency Standards Update’ (UIN HLWS120) announced that “the Government does not expect plan-makers to set local energy efficiency standards for buildings that go beyond current or planned buildings regulations”. This statement supersedes a 2015 WMS (UIN HCWS488) which was preventing some local authorities from setting ambitious policies, as highlighted by Kevin McCloud in C4’s recent Great Climate Fight series.

The implications of this WMS for progressive councils across the UK, who are in the process of updating or have already adopted new local plans to meet their climate emergency commitments, is not yet clear. Key industry bodies such as the Good Homes Alliance and the Town & County Planning Association are meeting in the new year to discuss a way forward.

Build net zero now

Since 2020, the GHA has been leading the ‘Build Net Zero Now’ campaign to empower progressive local authorities, housing associations and housebuilders, and their supply chains, by providing them with the knowledge and tools to deliver net zero housing.
    
Outputs from the campaign are freely available to industry and include net zero housing case studies, design brief clauses, guidance on financial incentives, and keynote talks from Baroness Brown of Cambridge, deputy chair of the Committee on Climate Change, and Julie James MS, minister for climate change, Welsh Government.
    
Despite the success of the campaign to date, the need to accelerate the delivery of net zero housing is more urgent than ever. The campaign continues into 2024 and beyond, with a Build Net Zero Now conference taking place on Tuesday 6th February 2024 at the Building Centre in London.
    
The conference is titled “Near the tipping point... How industry must act NOW to avert climate disaster” and calls for urgent action from the construction and housebuilding sectors to rapidly reduce carbon emissions.
    
Delegates will attend from across the sector to network and debate the aforementioned issues, with talks on: The Future Homes Standard – Are the proposals really ‘fit for the future’?; What are the implications of the December 2023 WMS for progressive councils across the UK who are seeking to meet their climate emergency commitments?; The key steps required to unlock investment and incentivise the delivery of net zero homes; How we must adapt and make our buildings more resilient to a changing climate, through appropriate shading design and specification, to mitigate overheating risk; The vital role for housebuilders in enhancing biodiversity in new housing developments; How to overcome ever-increasing water supply/demand issues and improve water quality; and How collective action can influence future policy and accelerate change - championing healthy homes, community-led housing, building performance, embodied carbon and the circular economy. Can we develop ‘A new manifesto for housing’?

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