Ahead of UKREiiF, where we are proud sponsors of UKBCSD's Beyond Net Zero Pavilion, alongside Sir Robert McAlpine Capital Ventures, Simon Richards writes about the importance of a climate coalition.
When hosting COP26 in 2021, our policy makers led a drive to position the UK as a world leader in green technologies and the climate transition. However, whilst the UK achieving Net-Zero Carbon (NZC) by 2050 is a legally binding target, delivering on that ambition may be hampered by the reality of implementing effective climate-friendly government policies.
Much of the post-COP26 momentum was clouded by the political uncertainty of the last year, and for those of us working in the built environment, this translates to uncertainty over the future of the legislation regulating our sector. Yet, with the construction industry responsible for 25% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), we cannot afford to let this uncertainty continue. The construction industry has a significant task ahead to play its part in achieving NZC.
An issue such as climate change – long term, and presenting challenges to us all – requires a response that overcomes existing divisions of party and political terms. Moving forward, we must collaborate to find a way to overcome the challenges GHG emissions present and work towards a better future for us all.
A cross-party initiative
Creating a sustainable society and combatting climate change will require the ability to plan and make investments for the long term. The ever-changing political cycle is not a natural fit to drive this forward: over the last year, the UK’s sustainability commitments have varied considerably and become a political battle ground, depending on the opinions of the Prime Minister and changing cabinet.
This creates an enormous amount of risk for the successful delivery of sustainable infrastructure. Without an idea of the future legislative environment and the Government’s agenda, investments could become obsolete – hardly a helpful backdrop for stakeholders to promote and implement innovations that could lead to a more carbon-friendly built environment.
Individual players and sector-wide organisations may drive forward future-thinking practices. At Sir Robert McAlpine, for example, we are members of The UK Business Council for Sustainable Development (UKBCSD). Yet without Government support these attempts can become fragmented. That is why building a cross-party consensus established to focus on climate change could help unite the private and public sector under a clear direction without the constraints of political terms or divisions. Government could design policy with a long-term view, and safely invest resources in producing the sector roadmaps to ensure NZC targets are delivered.
At present, climate and sustainability focused policies can be seen as too simplistic, preventing them from being effective at the pace we need to meet the climate challenge.
For example, in November, the Environment Act’s Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) requirements will come into effect. Yet the BNG requirements fail to take into account regional disparities. Developers must provide at least 10% BNG for their projects, and for places with low existing biodiversity, such as some urban environments, this will be easy to achieve. For projects in rural areas, the targets present a far more significant challenge.
It's time to move past sweeping policies, where the industry is left to fill in the gaps about effective implementation. If the private sector were to join a cross-party climate coalition, all stakeholders could collaborate to develop realistic roadmaps to achieve climate targets at the necessary pace with fair, shared ownership of the risk and opportunities involved.
A sustainable industry relies on clear climate policy
In looking for directional climate policy, The UK is not wanting for precedent. For example, whilst we currently lack targets on the carbon emissions of new builds, France and the Netherlands have already implemented these policies. Its time our sector had its own policy north star – such as the Net Zero Carbon Building Standards – which could set clear and attainable goals to work towards.
Sustainability is more than just carbon emissions – it is biodiversity, the circular economy and achieving social value within the communities where our projects are based. A sustainable construction sector consists of many intersecting factors, so it is fitting that an adequate response would require we work together, a variety of perspectives from public and private sectors, to identify the most beneficial and efficient way to achieve it.
Only recently the pandemic demonstrated we are capable of extraordinary measures to handle extraordinary circumstances and solving the environmental challenges we face will be no different. It’s time to take a different approach to sustainability. Without politics in the equation, we can focus on the plans we need.