The pressure is mounting for the UK to drastically reduce emissions within the next 30 years in order to achieve the net zero target. As announced during the UN General Assembly in New York, the UK has signed up to join the coalition of nations working to support the Paris Agreement to abolish net carbon emissions by 2050. In order to achieve this, we’ll have to first look at one of the main emissions offenders… buildings.
The net zero emissions target
The aim of the net zero emissions target is to try to reduce emissions to as close to zero as possible and then allowing any left-over carbon to be soaked out of the atmosphere by planting trees, for example. This is necessary in order to prevent significant temperature rises in the coming years.
The UK is one of the latest countries to join the Carbon Neutrality Coalition, joining other nations such as Denmark, Canada and New Zealand. The 19-member countries have adopted a Plan of Action which takes into account the recent IPCC report on global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The importance of the Carbon Neutrality Coalition is that the strategies require climate change to become central in government decision making in addition to promoting social and economic benefits that the transition can bring.
In order to achieve the net zero emissions target, we must look at technology and innovation. The prime minister has announced that £160m in funding will be used for climate projects.
The role of buildings
Although emissions must be reduced from a number of angles, there is a strong emphasis on both commercial and residential buildings. In fact, according to research by the Committee on Climate Change, buildings account for 37% of total UK greenhouse gas emissions.
As we are already aware, a large number of buildings in the UK are particularly old, therefore, less efficient and making small improvements to improve the energy efficiency of these buildings isn’t quite straightforward.
The way we can achieve this is through retrofitting. Retrofitting is simply providing a building with a feature or component it did not previously have when manufactured, with the primary purpose being to make buildings more thermal efficient and sustainable. Recent research has shown that the UK will not meet 2050 climate targets without retrofitting existing homes and commercial buildings.
By using our energy audit tool, arbn consult, this provides retrofit improvement measures in minutes, such as replacing tungsten lamps for LEDs or replacing existing electric heating for a new air source heat pump system. This is a quick and cost effective method to begin retrofitting given that many government attempts, such as the Green Deal, have been abolished.
The role of the property owner
The responsibility of making these improvements lies with the property owner. One of the biggest disputes for any profession involved with improving energy efficiency is the sum of money that is required to carry out the works. Property owners can often be sceptical but the actions being taken by the government to improve energy efficiency could see property owners paying a lot more in the future if they don’t act now.
The government has recently put stronger forces on landlords to improve its draughtiest homes. Since April 2018, the government has required landlords to improve their Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) to a band E, with A being the best and G the worst in the energy scale. Those who faced improvement costs exceeding £2,500 were initially exempt from making the upgrades, however, the government has now lifted the cap to £3,500, meaning fewer owners would be exempt.
There are also a number of other challenges facing property owners:
- MEES – The Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) were introduced in April 2018 and no longer allow landlords to renew or grant a new tenancy of longer than 6 months if their commercial property has an EPC rating of F or G. Although there may not have been many significant cases arising from the regulations’ introduction, plans for tougher regulations are expected.
- Potential future government policies – More will need to be done to achieve net zero emissions and it’s likely that this could include stronger energy efficiency policies and laws, particularly for commercial buildings. An Energy Industries Council (EIC) report has suggested the following could be likely:
- Reducing the period of EPC validity to 5 years.
- Introducing a minimum EPC standard of C by 2030.
- Centralising existing energy data and making it available to the public.
- Brexit – There are many unknowns with Brexit. We’ll no longer need to adhere to the EU energy and climate targets so will that make it easier or more difficult for the UK? Will the UK be able to achieve such ambitious emissions reductions targets without the help of its neighbours? Could Brexit act as a spur to rethink the correct combination of energy policies? All of these are unanswered questions but Brexit is likely to cause somewhat of an effect on the role of the property owner.
Overall, large responsibility lies with the property owner to be able to efficiently execute new energy efficiency plans and we have already seen that the government is willing to come down hard on them to achieve net zero emissions.