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‘Watershed moment’ as government climate change watchdog targets net zero by 2050


The government’s climate watchdog has demanded an ambitious new carbon reduction target, calling for UK to become net zero in carbon emissions by 2050

The Committee on Climate Change said the ’necessary, feasible and cost-effective’ target, which would be tougher than the existing 80 per cent goal laid out in 2008, ’should be set in legislation as soon as possible’.

The committee said it had built a ’new understanding of the potential to achieve deep emissions reduction’ based on the latest scientific evidence on climate change, including last year’s IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C.

The report said that the net zero target had now become feasible because the ’technologies and approaches needed to deliver the goal were now understood and [could] be implemented with strong leadership from government’.

It went onto say that measures to achieve the target were also now increasingly cost-effective, adding that price drops in technology would allow ’net zero within the very same costs that were accepted as the likely costs by Parliament in 2008, when it legislated the present 2050 target’.

The report specifies how tackling the nation’s existing building stock would play a significant role in reaching the target. It reads: ’Major improvements are required to the energy efficiency of buildings, in order to improve comfort levels, lower energy bills and prepare the building stock for a switch to low-carbon heating.

’Retrofit of hybrid heat pumps, enabling continued use of existing boilers and radiators, could sensibly be done alongside energy efficiency improvements in many cases.’

The committee goes on to demand that all new homes should no longer be connected to the gas grid from 2025 and that by 2035 ’almost all replacement heating systems for existing homes must be low-carbon or ready for hydrogen, such that the share of low-carbon heating increases from 4.5 per cent today to 90 per cent in 2050.’

A spokesperson for the committee said: ’Ten years after the Climate Change Act became law, now is the right moment to set a more ambitious goal.

‘Achieving a net zero target by the middle of the century is in line with the UK’s commitment under the Paris Agreement; the pact which the UK and the rest of the world signed in 2015 to curb dramatically the polluting gases that cause climate change.’

The report was hailed by Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive at the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) as a ’watershed moment in our efforts to tackle climate change’.

She said: ’The UK must take responsibility as a global leader to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and the building sector has a crucial role to play in this transition. According to WorldGBC, achieving this will require all new buildings to be net zero carbon by 2030 and all existing ones by 2050 – which will require outstanding levels of energy efficiency alongside zero carbon electricity and heat supplies.

Earlier this week the UKGBC launched a net zero carbon buildings framework for the UK construction and property industry to tackle help both new and existing buildings.

Hirigoyen added: ’[This framework] has already been warmly received by many businesses in the sector. But this ambitious objective can only be achieved with the help of strong policy drivers.

This ambitious objective can only be achieved with the help of strong policy drivers

’The government must urgently confirm the details underpinning the Future Homes Standard for new homes in 2025, along with similar standards for non-domestic buildings.

‘Simultaneously, a co-ordinated national infrastructure programme for energy efficiency and heat must be established to improve our existing buildings and minimise costs of the transition for householders.’


RIBA President, Ben Derbyshire
We welcome today’s Net Zero report by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and fully agree with its assessment that the UK Government will not meet zero emissions targets without a radical step-change in its environmental policies.

Given the built environment is responsible for a significant percentage of the UK’s total carbon footprint, we need to be ambitious to reduce the emissions created by all buildings. Developing a strategy for large scale retrofit of existing homes, tackling the low-carbon skills gap and ensuring new homes generate no net carbon emissions is critical.

It has been ten years since the Climate Change Act was introduced. The planet cannot afford to wait another decade.


Readers' comments (2)

  • So architects, developers and builders have a leading role to play in all this, but who is co ordinating the response? Government? LAs? Professional bodies? RIBA etc?

    Think Global, Act local?! I have suggested Brentford in London becomes a Green Suburb, part funded by Green Bonds or Carbon Credits. Several firms in the forefront of Code 5 design are involved, but where is the London Boro of Hounslow? What is the developers reaction? Is there infrastructure and retrofit of existing to match? And what is the status of Code 5 itself?!!

    I am forming a company to get this going, watch this space, and get in touch if you can help? We are starting with the GLA/TfL and moving on from there. Other suburbs, other cities, other countries.

    David Farmery

    Green Dragon🐲PM Co

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  • Great news and long awaited. As an architect in my 40's, if I'm lucky, I will live long enough to see all new buildings become carbon neutral and be part of the vast skill base that it will take to make that happen. it's exciting, it's right and we do as an industry have the team to do it. A good day today.

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