Whilst it’s the last thing we had wanted, it would be unreasonable to start this Horizon Scan without an overview of the UK’s latest lockdown.
Steering away from political reprisals over timings or strategy, Investor’s Chronicle notes that for the businesses that can hold on through this third lockdown, opportunities might be waiting on the other side of restrictions and the UK’s dominant services sector could bounce back.
Yet this general outlook hinges on the efficacy of vaccination programmes. For low carbon and energy efficiency, EDIE writes that 2021 has early signs of promise in the form of a vaccine that could enable some semblance of a next normal to take shape.
‘Whether in lockdown or not, many sustainability professionals will be juggling the short-term economic needs of businesses with the long-term rallying cry to decarbonise. As such, 2021 is a crucial year to reimagine corporate sustainability,’ it argues.
And it notes that businesses such as Microsoft have unveiled plans to “go beyond” Net Zero, through commitments to become carbon negative or planet positive. Though these terms as yet require concrete definition.
“Despite the vast disruption caused by Covid, it has also proven just how fast businesses can adapt. With this in mind, let’s focus on positivity and going beyond Net Zero to help us through these tough times,” comments Kevin Cox, Managing Director, Energys.
Energy white paper
With little fanfare, this future-looking paper arrived on the Government’s web portals on December 18 2020. Indeed, policymakers even admit in the foreword; ‘The government presents this white paper at a time of unprecedented peacetime challenge to our country. Coronavirus has taken a heavy toll on our society and on our economy. But we will overcome COVID-19 and rebuild our economy, building back better and levelling up the country.’
The Net Zero theme is dominant throughout the document. Yet Carbon Brief points to the “policy gap” between what the government has announced and where it needs its emissions trajectory to be heading. While the UK is on course to hit its third “carbon budget”, which ends in 2022, it is not on track for the next two five-year budgets, or for the 2050 Net Zero goal.
Prof Rebecca Willis, an energy and climate governance researcher at Lancaster University, told Carbon Brief; “This is a very different energy white paper from one that might have come ten years ago or even five years ago. I think that the commitment to the Net Zero target runs all the way through it…I think there is now much more of a recognition of the job that has to be done.”
And on buildings, the paper says; ‘Delivering our Net Zero target means largely eliminating emissions from domestic and commercial buildings by 2050.
‘We will drive greatly improved energy performance in both existing and new buildings to reduce consumption and help keep bills affordable.’ Surely a positive from an Energys perspective.
Buildings emissions all time high
According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), when adding emissions from the building construction industry on top of operational emissions, the sector accounted for 38 per cent of total global energy-related CO2 emissions.
The 2020 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction found that while global building energy consumption remained steady year-on-year, energy-related CO2 emissions increased to 9.95 Gt in 2019.
“We simply cannot allow these emissions increases in the building industry to continue,” comments Kevin Cox. “We require rapid decarbonisation of the entire sector, through both retrofit of legacy options and brave new buildings that embed the finest energy efficiency solutions.”
Joining the dots
In more building news as the year turns, New Civil Engineer argues that joined up policy is essential for a UK Net Zero built environment.
The journal calls for a detailed policy and implementation framework, which includes a coherent plan for every sector, including the built environment as the UK’s Net Zero 2050 pathway begins.
In tandem, it argues that one of the biggest challenges to overcome is how to retrofit housing stock for Net Zero.
‘According to the UK Green Building Council, 80% of buildings that will be around in 2050 already exist today. Retrofitting them for energy and carbon efficiency, as well as climate resilience, will be a mammoth task – one that will require a huge amount of collaboration, innovation and technological advances.
‘Solutions could include tax incentives for sustainable construction, accreditation schemes for Net Zero enabled buildings, or even a government-led offsetting fund where funds can be re-invested into retrofitting older properties.’
Energys agrees that clear, coherent and shared strategies, with innovative mechanisms, remain a vital tool in delivering a Net Zero build environment. We stand ready to assist and leverage our advice into Government as the country tackles the challenges ahead.