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Independent review calls for greater government ambition to reach net zero

Nell Brown, RIBA Senior Policy Advisor, reflects on the findings of Mission Zero: Independent Review of Net Zero and what it says about the built environment.

23 January 2023

The findings of Mission Zero: Independent Review of Net Zero were published earlier this month. The report makes sensible recommendations, which could help the government move further and faster towards net zero. From backing sustainable businesses to delivering more energy efficient homes, the report offers a blueprint as the UK government transition towards a green economy.

Announced during the Truss premiership, the review was led by former Minister Chris Skidmore. Previously holding briefs such as energy and science, he understands the scale of the challenge ahead. The report demonstrates awareness of the huge gap between where we are and where we need to be – also highlighting government inaction to date. Skidmore launched the report at King’s College London and stressed in his speech that the time for action “has already passed” and that “the climate clock stops for no one”. The sense of urgency is clear – we must all move at pace.

The 340-page in-depth report includes 129 recommendations and follows an extensive consultation period and engagement exercise across the UK. The review team received 1,800 written evidence submissions and held more than 50 roundtables – it is positive that there is so much appetite for change across all sectors and society. The RIBA responded to the call for evidence in October 2022, making the case for greater action on retrofitting, greener taxation strategies and the importance of setting and measuring the right targets for the built environment – such as for operational energy and embodied carbon.

If the UK government are serious about getting to net zero on time, they must be more ambitious. Our submission included concerns about the cross-departmental nature of energy efficiency - crucial elements of policy can be lost between departmental remits. For example, energy efficiency is led by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, but housing is led by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. This approach makes it harder to connect the dots and ensure that any new approaches are joined up. Our concerns were echoed in the report. We hope that initiatives, such as the recommendation for a new Office for Net Zero Delivery, help to overcome this and result in effective climate policies.

What about the built environment? There has been progress in recent years, and the UK’s COP26 Presidency was a useful focal point which generated some action. But we know that there is enthusiasm for bolder and braver movement from government amongst our members. Our sector is demonstrating a commitment to reducing the built environment’s carbon emissions, which sits at about 40% of the UK’s total. We encourage all RIBA Chartered Practices to sign up to the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge and meet our targets to reduce operational energy demand and embodied carbon. For those who have already signed up, reporting and sharing the data for projects is crucial to help better understand where the sector is doing well, and where more guidance is necessary.

Bosco Verticale, Milan

Skidmore’s review seeks to persuade the government to deliver “cleaner, cheaper, greener homes”. From the widespread adoption of heat pumps to greener taxation strategies, there are many pieces of the jigsaw. But dealing with retrofitting, is going to be an essential area requiring coordination and focus. Architects have also backed the RIBA’s calls for a well-funded National Retrofit Strategy. A long-term policy and investment programme, which upgrades the energy efficiency of our housing stock, will generate tangible reductions in energy use whilst creating green jobs and help level up across the country.

Skidmore has made clear the opportunity that net zero presents by generating jobs and growth, but also the danger of inertia. To effectively retrofit homes and improve their energy efficiency, we will need to upskill the current workforce and recruit around 500,000 new professionals, according to the Construction Leadership Council. But if we stand still and we fail to invest now, we will lose the opportunity to lead the way, unlock private investment and reap the benefits of a new, more sustainable economy.

We will have to see how the government chooses to respond to the report and its recommendations. But the RIBA continues to work with them and industry to create a greener built environment.

Find out more about our climate action work.

View a list of the RIBA’s latest responses to government consultations and parliamentary inquiries.

Find out more information on the RIBA’s Professional Features on climate action and sustainability.

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