COP27 focuses today on decarbonisation.
It could be argued that the UK has been a world leader on climate change – the first country to put its 2050 net greenhouse gas emission commitment into law, and the Government’s Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener clearly set out its commitments in 2021.
However, as Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General, has pointed out, targets are pointless if not actually achieved, and the Prime Minister and Business Secretary who proudly introduced that strategy are now gone.
A mass decarbonisation effort is urgently needed across all sectors – which will both need and foster a new green economy. It should be a win-win, of course, for both growth and climate agendas.
Two UK sectors, namely transport (24% of total emissions) and built environment (25%) have massive carbon footprints and very similar issues. Their biggest challenge is not technology, but fragmentation. Indeed, where transport is concerned, there are significant numbers of corporate vehicle fleets, and on the built environment side, professional landlords. However, about 65% of the UK’s housing is owner-occupied. Getting all the UK’s 29 million dwellings and 39 million road vehicles onto efficiently used clean energy will, therefore, involve millions of decisions by private individuals, none of them being easy to make or implement.
Policy implementation must focus on those decision points for individuals, and turn the low carbon choice at each point into an automatic decision for them. Banning new petrol and diesel cars in the UK by 2030 will deal with new car purchases, but leaves the used car market untouched – fuel type and efficiency choices must, therefore, be fostered, for example vehicle use, car sharing, use of air conditioning and driving habits. Reducing US speed limits to 55 mph in the 1970s oil crisis was estimated to result in a 17% reduction in fuel consumption – so, even coming down from 70 to 65 would make a difference.
Active travel (by foot, cycle etc.) is the lowest carbon option. Public transport is next, and much is being done to improve emissions, such as the roll-out of zero emission buses. Switching from a car to either of these equates to a significant change but a web of factors interact in the individual’s choice – cost, routing, reliability, frequency, security, speed. The bus world is addressing the challenge intelligently. Moreover, a net zero rail network is to be created by 2050, with the ambition to remove all diesel-only trains by 2040.
There seemed to be unnecessary delays to ending gas supply for new homes by 2026, under the Government’s Net Zero Strategy. However, with fewer than 300,000 new homes built annually in the UK, it is maybe less of an issue than the target for retrofitting existing homes. The requirement needed to meet this stands at over 20,000 homes every week for the next 28 years to achieve the 2050 commitment. That equates to 20,000 homes per week, every week, every year.
As highlighted in our Making Green Work report, collaboration and skills are key to sustaining momentum and achieving the transformation needed to reach our net zero emissions goal. Decarbonisation Day at COP27 will help to spotlight differing approaches and technologies to aid this shift to a low carbon economy and we are following the discussions closely.
To read more about the UK’s drive towards achieving zero carbon emissions, see our earlier insight on The UK’s Net Zero Strategy. You can also read more updates on some of the topical issues being discussed at COP27 via our LoupedIn blog.
About the author(s)
Giles Clifford is a highly experienced partner with more than twenty years' experience in helping clients to understand and manage risks, protect their interests and achieve their goals in the delivery of complex infrastructure and real estate development projects.