‘Not moving fast enough’: UK built environment sector off-track to deliver net-zero emissions

New research has warned that the UK built environment is off track to reduce emissions in line with the national net-zero target, with the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) calling for policy interventions to help spur progress.

‘Not moving fast enough’: UK built environment sector off-track to deliver net-zero emissions

Emissions from the UK’s domestic building stock notably account for around one-quarter of annual national total

On Built Environment Day (6 December) at COP28 the UKGBC unveiled a progress report updating data related to UKGBC’s Net Zero Whole Life Carbon Roadmap published at COP26 in Glasgow. The updated research found that between 2018 and 2022, emissions from the sector fell by 13% – below the 19% reduction required to align with the net-zero pathway.

The UKGBC warns that the current shortfall represents 11 MtCO2e of carbon emissions, equivalent to the annual polluting output of 6.5 million cars.

This slow progress means the sector needs to decarbonise almost twice as fast over the next two years to get back to the net-zero trajectory.

The UKGBC’s chief executive Smith Mordak said: “Unprecedented global events have shaped the story of the built environment over the last four years, but despite forced emissions reductions during the pandemic, this progress report makes one thing clear: our industry is not moving fast enough.”

The analysis also reveals that the coronavirus pandemic helped spur larger levels of decarbonisation. However, embodied carbon emissions have fallen by just 4% since 2018 – less than a quarter of the pathway target.

According to the WorldGBC, operational emissions (from energy used to heat, cool and light buildings) accounts for 28% of the built environment sector’s 39% contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions. The remaining 11% derives from embodied carbon emissions found in the material and construction processes across a building’s entire lifecycle.

Policy support

The UKGBC has called for the UK Government to reject the recent u-turns on key green policies such as electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing, home heating and building energy efficiency.

Instead, the Council wants ambitious policy action to spur investment in home retrofits to make it more affordable – namely through a stamp duty incentive that rewards decarbonisation.

Another key policy ask is for a more robust regulatory landscape to spur wider levels of decarbonisation and clear national planning that places climate and nature into planning systems and decisions. Local carbon budgets should also be introduced to align developments with the national net-zero target.

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