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Shock horror: Climate change is now a vote winner

28 May 2019

Shock horror: Climate change is now a vote winner

We've hit a breakthrough moment in climate change - the buildings sector must not squander it, argues John Alker of the UK Green Building Council

Wow. Something is very much 'going on'. It's been a whirlwind few weeks in the world of climate, politics and green business.

Greta, Sir David, Extinction Rebellion…pick your starting point. The public consciousness has been well and truly pricked and this is feeding through very directly into the boardroom. Both privately and publicly businesses are asking 'what does this mean for us and our business model?' and we may be on the verge of a major race-to-the-top in terms of climate leadership. About time.

The Committee on Climate Change's net zero report landed with a thud and has acted as a bit of a wake-up call for many. Not only is climate change not going away, but something strange is happening. It's becoming an issue that is seen as a vote-winner, not an electoral risk that is in direct conflict with economic growth. Shock horror.

For my sector, construction and property, this also feels like a turning point. Buildings and demand reduction have never been the most exciting thing for politicians. Not the same photo opportunity as speedboat in front of a wind turbine or driving a Tesla. But with responsibility for about 30 per cent of global carbon emissions, buildings are kind of important.

It was with impeccable sense of timing that UKGBC published a ‘framework definition' for Net Zero Carbon Buildings in the Houses of Parliament last month. Someone described it as a tidal shift in our industry, involving as it did 13 different trade and professional bodies and almost exactly 100 contributing organisations. The number of downloads is well over 1000 and counting.

Forget the old debate about zero carbon homes. This is about new and existing buildings, residential and commercial, and crucially carbon released both in operation and in construction. It provides a common basis for industry to take a leadership position and it's no coincidence that we have seen major net zero announcements in the past weeks from the likes of Grosvenor, Skanska, Berkeley Group, Bruntwood and others that pave the way for all progressive businesses in the sector.

It's not just the owners, developers and constructors of buildings that can take a lead. For every business that occupies space - i.e. every business - what's your position on net zero carbon buildings? Is your office or retail space part of the problem or solution? Demand shown by occupiers is one of the most important drivers of change. Sign up to the global Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment and be part of this movement.

But it can't be left to voluntary initiatives alone. Many cities are taking a lead, which is heartening to see, but we desperately need national government to add substance to aspiration. The upcoming Part L review, the commitment to a Future Homes Standard, and the long-promised strategy for able-to-pay household energy efficiency are just a few of the big levers to pull. In the current context, these policies have to deliver in a big way - there is just no excuse for coming up short.

This feels like a breakthrough moment, let's not let it go to waste.

John Alker is director of policy and places at the UK Green Building Council

Article & image source: Business Green

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