The evidence, says the Royal Academy of Engineers, is staring us in the face – simple maths tells us that the target of cutting emissions by 80% by 2050 is not attainable without radical measures.

Buildings currently account for almost half (45%) of the country’s emissions, with most estimates suggesting that 80% of the buildings we will occupy in 2050 have already been built.

This means that even if we achieve the unlikely goal of completely eliminating carbon from all other sources, emissions will still stand at 36% of today’s rate if nothing is done to improve the performance of these buildings.

A report published by the academy acknowledges the vast scale of the challenge while outlining what could be done to meet it, both in terms of new build and refurbishment.

Report author Prof Doug King, said: “The sheer pace of change in the regulation of building energy performance has already created problems for the construction industry and the proposed acceleration of this process, aiming to achieve zero-carbon new buildings by 2020, will only widen the gulf between ambitious Government policy and the industry’s ability to deliver.”

The report reinforces the hierarchy of carbon cutting techniques, once again emphasising the need to tackle energy efficiency before looking at the savings that can be made by headline-grabbing renewable energy technologies.

“Before renewable energy generation is even considered it is vital to ensure that buildings are as energy efficient as possible, otherwise the potential benefits are simply wasted in offsetting un-necessary consumption,” said a statement from the academy.

“Creative solutions to make buildings more energy efficient include basic techniques, known for thousands of years, such as using daylight, natural ventilation and thermal mass, where masonry is used to store heat and moderate temperature variations.

“However, with the application of scientific analysis…these aspects of a building’s design can make a very substantial contribution to meeting the performance and comfort needs of the occupants without resorting to energy consuming building services installations.”

Sam Bond

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie