World Green Building Week: why tackling emissions from buildings is so key

The World Green Building Council (WGBC) has doubled signatories to the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment in just over one year. What is happening at home on hastening buildings decarbonisation?

In today’s carbon-aware world, lowering buildings emissions is absolutely essential to delivering meaningful energy reductions across the UK and its businesses. And reputational and financial gains are available for businesses that engage.

The evidence from WGBC points to why. Since inception, the businesses and organisations signed up to its Commitment now cover nearly 6,000 assets, over 32 million m2 total floor area and $100 billion USD in annual turnover. By 2030, this means that the operational portfolio emissions of these Commitment signatories will be at net zero, affecting approximately 3.4 million tonnes of CO2 (tCO2e).

That’s an astounding amount of carbon, and WGBC says the steep rise signals a shift in momentum, ambition and leadership towards decarbonising the built environment as a way to combat the climate crisis.

“Achieving this milestone, in less than two years since the launch, demonstrates the growing importance of net zero carbon buildings to governments, businesses and mayors,” said Cristina Gamboa, CEO, WGBC.

“As countries look to recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19, there is an opportunity for net zero buildings to provide benefits for people, the planet and economies. By positioning net zero carbon buildings at the core of these recovery efforts, governments and policymakers can harness the incredible potential of net zero buildings to build back better and enable a green recovery.”

UK buildings decarbonisation

Work is of course afoot at home to attempt a similar net zero transition – and new policies are imminent. edie reports that, following months of delays and amid mounting pressure from businesses and climate advisors alike, the UK government will publish the Energy White Paper, Heat Strategy and Buildings Strategy alongside the Autumn Statement, Alok Sharma has confirmed.

Among elements affected could be the Future Homes Standard, Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme,  and the National Infrastructure Strategy.

Clearly that’s a lot of decarbonising business policy the UK is waiting upon, and given the amazing benefits illustrated by WGBC, decision is something we need to inspire business on the right steps towards net zero.

When asked precisely when in autumn any announcements would be forthcoming, Sharma hinted to edie that publications would be timed to coincide with the Autumn Statement. “I want to show ambition in publishing these when I say autumn,” he said.

“I think what’s very important is for us to be coordinated in terms of wider policy announcements that are made.” Sharma added: “I’m not going to pre-empt what the Chancellor will say at Budget or Spending Review – that would not be wise – but the direction of travel is very clear.”

The big issue

So far so good, but there is a huge problem with all of this. The FT reported in August that Sunak might shelve any Autumn Budget, Statement or Spending Review, ‘If Britain is hit by a big second wave of Coronavirus.’ There might just be a mini spending review instead. Or indeed nothing at all.

In Sunak’s July statement, not a single one of the policy measures edie mentioned got a word in, as new measures like the Stamp Duty cut gained the limelight. The pandemic has hijacked government agendas, not only in the UK, but globally.

Net zero and decarbonisation business policy amid a second wave might simply sink into the depths as businesses panic over Coronavirus, with new policy failing to attract the attention and hence the impacts one might hope.

The good news: the UK’s top level net zero commitments and targets remain. They are not going anywhere. For this reason, any action from UK business on buildings decarbonisation and the net zero transition is always wise. The WGBC’s lead still offers a great example of the world’s, and to an extent the UK’s direction of travel.

Perhaps in these strange times business must simply wait out the virus until there is scope within government capacity to put meat on the bones of overarching low carbon policy. The Hub will report back as soon as any more details are made apparent on our much needed decarbonisation and low energy frameworks for buildings.