Greg Barker presented was optimistic about the UK’s progress on carbon reduction at Ecobuild this week, but the pace of change needs to accelerate
As the flood waters in the south of England start to subside, leaving a frenzied push to ensure that the risk of a repeat situation recedes just as quickly, there can be no doubt that climate change is now an immediate, pressing problem.
The events of the last two months have hit home in the country’s public and political consciousness the need to radically improve sustainability in the built environment - at least in respect of flood protection. This short sharp shock seems to have succeeded in a way that the long-term nature of many of the UK’s wider sustainability and carbon reduction targets perhaps failed to do.
At this week’s Ecobuild event in London, energy minister Greg Barker was keen to press home the progress the UK has made in improving sustainability since the nineties, pointing to reductions in carbon pollution and a new era of optimism ahead of the UN Conference on Climate Change to be held in Paris 2015. The statistics will no doubt be pored over by those seeking to discredit the government’s progress, but regardless of the finer detail, Barker is right when he says sustainability is now much more firmly on the national agenda than many expected two decades ago. This, however, does not mask the fact that the pace of action is nowhere near fast enough to secure a sustainable future for the UK.
Barker is right when he says sustainability is now much more firmly on the national agenda than many expected two decades ago. This, however, does not mask the fact that the pace of action is nowhere near fast enough
Barker’s announcement this week of an allocation of £19m of Green Deal funding to local authorities, for example, will be a welcome boost to those driving forward retrofit work in the locations affected. But it is still a drop in the ocean compared with the retrofit work the industry was banking on having appeared by this time. Carillion chief executive Richard Howson said this week the market for retrofit work was up to 95% lower than the company had expected it to be before problems with the Green Deal and ECO schemes. Similarly, Barker’s recent announcement, that the amount of cash back available for solid wall insulation under the Green Deal will rise, is good news in light of the problems facing that market, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that this should have been introduced months ago, when the collapse in that market became clear.
Similar situations are evident right across the breadth of issues affecting sustainability in the built environment, not least the current flooding crisis. As Alastair Moseley of the Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management points out this week, Sir Michael Pitt undertook a comprehensive review of flooding causes in 2007: the current crisis suggests that the recommendations have not been implemented widely or well enough - and the fact that the government seems to be trying to repeat this exercise now rather than putting those measures in place is adding to the glacial sense of progress.
Ecobuild this week highlighted that many of the industry’s leading practitioners are devoting as much time as ever to devising creative solutions that could make the UK’s buildings and infrastructure more sustainable, whether through fresh approaches to design or product manufacture. But for these solutions to have the impact they are designed to, they need a policy environment that will drive their adoption on a wider scale, both through promoting the technologies and approaches themselves and stimulating the market for development as a whole.
There also needs to be a detailed plan which ties policies to the specific outcomes they are designed to achieve in terms of the country’s commitments under the 2008 Climate Change Act. Despite Barker’s optimism, we have yet to arrive in that world.
Sarah Richardson, Building editor