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1 OCT 2019

Are the Conservative party planting seeds to tackle climate change?

Dr Patrice Cairns RICS

Dr Patrice Cairns

Policy Manager, Northern Ireland

Belfast, UK

RICS

With the COP 2020 confirmed to be hosted in Glasgow, it is no surprise that the Conservative party have strived to up their ante on climate change policy through the conference platform.

A raft of built and natural environment announcements that aim towards the UK's 2050 net zero target include:

  • Up to £1 billion investment in the automotive industry to focus on green growth and delivering emissions reductions in the road transport sector.
  • Creating more green spaces across the UK, with a new Great Northumberland Forest where up to one million trees will be planted by 2024.
  • A new Future Homes Standard to ensure world leading energy efficiency in homes be introduced from 2025.

Transport

In terms of tackling carbon emissions within the transport sector, policy has again focused on production of electric vehicles (EV) through an investment boost in automotive manufacturing – a similar vein running through Labours Green Industrial Revolution.

While in principle increasing EV capacity is an important deliverable, ensuring that public transport, road and cycling infrastructure is both adequately funded and strategically planned, is critical in achieving a holistic move towards a low carbon transport sector.

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Green Infrastructure

Green infrastructure, the network of trees, parks, and green spaces, is vital in its contribution to the placemaking agenda, providing health and well-being benefits within communities, enhancing biodiversity, while mitigating and adapting to climate change. The Conservatives pledge from the larger scale of creating three new forests in Northumberland, to an urban programme of supporting both new and regenerating existing "pocket parks" to transform undeveloped or derelict land, is to be welcomed. However green infrastructure can also be vulnerable to impacts of climate change, pressures from urbanisation and abandonment, therefore RICS would urge that the government ensures both investment in the long-term maintenance of these assets and in fostering the necessary professional skills within the built and natural environment sector to support these proposals.

As the scale and intensity of urbanisation continues, the development of infrastructure and building construction must strive to ensure systems that are low carbon and resilient, and which protect green valuable habitat. An effective mechanism is the consideration of natural capital and ecosystem service valuation, which provides a tool in large-scale economic decision-making. A focus on natural capital and the development of active ecosystem services markets can assist in alleviating the impacts of climate change. Optimum management of natural assets can bring benefits such as flood mitigation and carbon sequestration. RICS would urge that government and the private sector both engage with the creation of viable markets for eco-system services. However, for the full range of potential benefits available from the most efficient management of natural capital to be unleashed across all the economic, environmental and social indicators, private investment will be essential.

Energy Efficiency in Homes

RICS have long championed for driving lower carbon emissions within the built environment, which alone accounts for over a third of emissions. Reducing the building sector's carbon emissions has historically been focused on operational carbon, and this continues with the government's announcement of the introduction of a Future Homes Standard, with interim regulations to be implemented as soon as next year.

The Future Homes Standard will see requirements of building regulations for new homes raised by 2025 to meet energy efficiency standards, including a requirement to cut CO2 emissions by 78% through the introduction of low-carbon heating systems. Further requirements state that new homes reduce their CO2 emissions by up to a third from 2020, with additional transitional arrangements to be put in place to prevent developers from applying for permission early to avoid the new higher standards.

While RICS support and welcome proposals to driving better energy efficiency within buildings and homes, we await further detail on the Future Homes Standard specifically regarding potential funding streams to support developers in championing low carbon innovation. Additionally, it is imperative that a holistic package of measures be undertaken to reduce carbon emission from buildings, both within new and existing homes. RICS ask that the Government further reduce, or provide a break, on VAT for home repairs, maintenance and improvement work to retrofit existing buildings.

Given carbon emissions are attributable not only to the operational use of built assets, but also through their construction, it is imperative to address embodied carbon within the built environment sector. To gain an understanding the overall carbon impact of the built asset, whole life carbon must be assessed; identifying the overall best combined opportunities for reducing lifetime emissions and helping to avoid any unintended consequences of focusing on operational emissions alone. RICS earlier this year officially launched the whole life Building Carbon Database, to capture embodied carbon data for whole buildings. The purpose of the database reinforces the RICS professional statement "Whole life carbon assessment for the built environment, 1st edition", which RICS professionals must act in accordance with, and which strives to raise sector standards and contribute to reducing carbon emissions.

Dr Patrice Cairns RICS

Dr Patrice Cairns

Policy Manager, Northern Ireland

Belfast, UK

RICS

Dr Cairns is a policy manager within the RICS UK Government Relations team. In addition to developing UK policy and promoting RICS thought leadership, Dr Cairns is responsible for leading RICS public policy work in Northern Ireland across all priority issues and key sectors. She works to build RICS' influence, credibility and profile.

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