We still have little idea of how low-energy designs perform, which means we’re like scientists conducting endless experiments without ever seeing how they come out
Whatever happens in Copenhagen this week, the UK has already committed itself to some of the most ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions in the world. It’s worth reminding ourselves of that. It’s also worth asking ourselves what this means and how on earth we might, well, get there.
The average person has a carbon footprint of about 10 tonnes a year. The scale of the challenge is brought home if we consider that this must fall to a little more than two tonnes by 2050. The implication is that we will have to completely change our attitude to flying, driving and many other things often regarded as essential to a happy life. A more attractive option for many is to deny that climate change, if it is happening, is the result of human activity. The leaked emails from the University of East Anglia have given the deniers a lot of ammunition, and as Jonathon Porritt argues on page 13, have created the need for a clear statement of the scientific case.
As we’ve heard countless times before, 45% of energy consumed in this country is done in buildings. This means our industry is centre stage when it comes to reducing energy use. And, credit where it’s due, the industry has played its part pretty well over the past five years. It’s true that this has been driven by legislation and regulation, but that doesn’t change the fact that firms that know how to do low-energy design and construction are gaining an advantage; the quality and quantity of entries in our Sustainability Awards last month were testament to that. That said, we still have little idea of how those designs perform when built, which means that we’re in the position of scientists conducting endless experiments without ever seeing how they come out. Rab Bennetts, our Sustainability Leader of the Year, said our goals could be attained only through greater co-operation. Sharing information on energy use is a good place to start.
But while the emphasis remains on cutting emissions in new buildings, precious little is happening with existing stock. When it comes to the crunch, the government shies away from carbon taxes, and it’s been slow to dip its hand in its pocket. The Tories are planning a scheme that will allow households to fund energy-saving measures through their bills, and the government this week announced a pilot initiative along similar lines for 500 households. News of the boiler scrappage scheme in Wednesday’s pre-Budget report is a welcome step, as are boosts for wind power and carbon capture – though not before time.
But we need a lot more incentives if people are to improve their homes, such as interest-free loans to invest in upgrades, repayable when property is sold, and council tax reductions in return for improvements. We have to hope, as Porritt says, that one of the outcomes of the summit is that it brings more certainty and, with it, that we have the political courage from whoever is in power to back up ideals and ambitions with some well thought-through ideas about how we’re going to fulfil them and how they are to be paid for.
Good news from the RICS
Is some sense finally emerging from Great George Street? One hopes so. The RICS is said to be rethinking its decision to pull out of the Construction Industry Council amid pressure from large QS practices and a quiet word from Paul Morrell, top QS and chief construction adviser. Nothing’s definite yet, but Paul’s appointment is a powerful reason for the institution to remain in the industry fold: after all, QSs now have a direct line to an important Whitehall player. Changing its mind now would also send a signal to its QS membership that, as Frasier Crane might say, “I’m listening”.
Denise Chevin, editor