Advancing Net-Zero Carbon, what does it mean for housebuilding?

28th May 2019

If you have been keeping up with national news recently, you will have likely seen multiple dates and demands flying around regarding Climate Change. Notably, the Committee on Climate Change recently called for Net Zero Carbon Emissions in the UK by 2050, and groups such as Extinction Rebellion, have gone one step further than this, demanding Net Zero Carbon Emissions by 2025.

“Net Zero” refers to achieving an overall balance between emissions produced and emissions taken out of the atmosphere. Most sectors of the economy will need to dramatically cut their emissions to achieve Net Zero by 2050 including housebuilding, as 14% of UK greenhouse gas emissions come from domestic dwellings. Last week, the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) held a Workshop on Advancing Net Zero, which covered what Net Zero means in the built environment and how the UKGBC framework could be used as a tool for companies to transition to Net Zero carbon.

Discussions revolved around two elements of the UKGBC Framework: operational (in use) energy and emissions derived from the construction process. The framework suggests that Net Zero could be achieved by reducing operational energy use, increasing renewable energy supplies, and offsetting any remaining carbon. With this in mind, we can expect to see more energy efficient homes (using low carbon heating) as well as more energy efficient methods of construction. In the next quarter of a century, we are likely to see an industry shift towards large-scale use of onsite renewable energy sources such as photovoltaics and heat pumps. At Redrow, we have been striving for continuous improvement in this area, and the percentage of homes and apartments connected to on-site renewables or low carbon community energy increased from 13% (2016) to 37% (2018).

UK Government Advisers have cautioned that new homes should be banned from connecting to the gas grid within six years to tackle climate change. It is likely that electricity (generated by non-fossil fuels) will compensate for this as an energy source and be used to heat homes and hot water.

In order to reach “zero” emissions, companies are likely to use offsets or carbon credits. Trees are key in balancing the levels of C02 and Oxygen, and The Woodland Trust recently quantified that the UK will need 50 million new trees per year to hit Net Zero Carbon emissions by 2050…that’s a lot of trees! At Redrow, green spaces are already important to us; our new Nature for People Strategy includes achieving Biodiversity Net-Gains.

It is evident from recent events that we are seeing changes to our socio-political environment, and the demand for action on climate change is rapidly gaining momentum. The UKGBC notes that the framework on its own is not enough to achieve Net Zero – as further policies, regulations and incentives will be needed to improve energy efficiency and use of renewables. Nevertheless, the framework does indicate steps in the right direction, and provides a useful guide to enable the construction industry as a whole to have a consistent and collaborative approach towards transitioning to Net Zero Carbon emissions.

To read the full document, please download it here (https://www.ukgbc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Net-Zero-Carbon-Buildings-A-framework-definition.pdf) and share with others involved in design and construction.

Olivia Ward, Sustainability Coordinator