Committee on Climate Change says buildings and heat strategy must be a priority

The government must address built environment policy shortfalls if it wants to achieve net zero, the Committee on Climate Change has warned.

The government’s statutory adviser, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), has published its progress report on efforts to cut emissions, outlining what it says needs to happen urgently if the UK is to reach its target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050

Green wall

It said the delay of COP26 to November 2021 “provides a window to address this policy deficit” in areas including the buildings and heat strategy, which is due out later this year.

The 196-page report said: “[It] must take low-carbon heating from a niche market in the UK to the dominant form of new heating installation by the early-2030s.

“It should be supported by a national effort to improve the energy efficiency of UK buildings along with ensuring their safety and comfort as the climate warms.”

Paul Tremble, chief strategy officer at WSP, said“This acts as a powerful reminder that as the UK plans its recovery, no plan will be good enough unless it embeds the principles of decarbonisation, circular economy and resilience from policymaking all the way to project delivery. 

“The CCC confirms that it is possible to deliver an improved economy, better public health, greater biodiversity and resilient places, but only if decisive action is taken and meaningful finance allocated. There will be a tension between building back better and building back quicker in the months ahead.”

Other areas the report says must be addressed are strong policies to change patterns of transport demand and decarbonise surface transport as well as investment in low carbon industrial technologies and industrial sectors, in contrast to the piecemeal schemes announced so far.

Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive at UKGBC, said: “We echo the CCC’s call for the government to take low-carbon heat from a niche market in the UK to the dominant form of installation by the early 2030s and their calls for a national effort to improve the energy efficiency of UK buildings.

"We look forward to government urgently bringing forward their manifesto pledges to kickstart energy efficiency retrofit in fuel poor households and the social housing and public sectors. Also welcome is the committee’s focus on the need to address embodied emissions, which will come into sharp focus as we drive down operational energy use." 

The CCC is calling on the communities department to ensure the remit of the new buildings safety regulator covers climate change mitigation and adaption, while it also wants plans to rapidly scale up the levels of wood used in construction - a call which is at odds with the combustible cladding ban.

The report also highlighted the need for reskilling and retraining programmes.

It said: "New and updated skills are needed in the transition to net zero and to adapt to the changing climate.

"In particular, new support to train designers, builders and installers is urgently needed for low-carbon heating (especially heat pumps), energy and water efficiency, passive cooling, ventilation and thermal comfort, and property-level flood resilience."

Key findings

Investment priorities in the months ahead:

  1. Low-carbon retrofits and buildings that are fit for the future
  2. Tree planting, peatland restoration, and green infrastructure
  3. Energy networks must be strengthened
  4. Infrastructure to make it easy for people to walk, cycle, and work remotely
  5. Moving towards a circular economy.

Opportunities to support the transition and the recovery by investing in the UK’s workforce:

  1. Reskilling and retraining programmes
  2. Leading a move towards positive behaviours
  3. Targeted science and innovation funding