New Building Rules Needed to Address Climate Crisis

Insurer Legal and General has urged the UK government to tear down the barriers to the creation of net zero emissions housebuilding in the UK.

In an open letter to the government Kerrigan Proctor, CEO Legal & General Capital, who is also LGIM’s Head of Sustainability, Head of LGIM Real Assets, said the insurer was playing its part but that ore had to be done to ensure the cou8htry’s recovery wasn’t built on high-emitting and inefficient buildings.

“COVID-19 has demonstrated the damage that natural disasters can inflict on economies,” the letter said. “The world is currently on a trajectory of more than 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise, regarded as the limit of safety, beyond which the effect of warming on the climate becomes catastrophic and irreversible.

“Such a scenario would undoubtedly cause economic disruption and human suffering on a scale even greater than the novel Coronavirus pandemic.”

Mr Proctor added buildings account for over a third of overall UK greenhouse gas emissions, with heating and hot water constituting 20%.

The UK government, which has committed to meeting net-zero emissions by 2050, recently announced a multibillion pound building and infrastructure package to fuel the country’s recovery following the pandemic.

“This ambition is welcome, particularly the introduction of measures such as the retrofit voucher scheme and investments to improve the energy efficiency of public buildings,” added Proctor. “But the recovery must be achieved without locking in high-emitting and inefficient buildings for decades to come. As the recovery gets underway, it is crucial that the opportunity to build back better is not lost.

“As an investor, house builder and landlord, Legal & General is taking action to play its part in addressing the challenge of reducing emissions from the built environment.”

Proctor added that however, in order for private sector actors to meet their net-zero ambitions, “the government must urgently clear some of the existing policy barriers, and introduce new regulation to provide a clear direction of travel for the industry”. He called for a rage of steps to be taken including:

  • Reintroducing net zero-carbon standards for new homes.
  • The £2 billion Green Homes Grant is a welcome step to create a sustainable built environment, but it must represent the start of an ambitious National Retrofit Strategy to fund the upgrading of existing homes.
  • Implementing embodied carbon targets for new public buildings, large public renovations and infrastructure – with a clear trajectory towards net zero standards in the longer term.
  • Raising Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) for non-domestic lettings.
  • Introducing urgent legislation to improve transparency on the operational energy performance for non-domestic buildings.
  • Reducing the energy performance gap through transforming mainstream industry initiatives from Design for Compliance to a Design for Performance programme – a move towards measuring a building’s efficiency based upon actual energy use.
  • Incentivising businesses to support their transition towards net zero – through the use of renewable energy on-site.

“As the UK looks beyond Covid-19, it is faced with a deep economic recession coupled with a longstanding housing crisis,” Mr Proctor added.  “Whilst government may be focused on its ‘build, build, build’ agenda, it must not lose sight of how this – if not regulated appropriately – will have an irreversible impact on climate change.

Due to the pandemic, global greenhouse gas emissions have hit a sudden plateau, and the world now has unexpected opportunity to continue to bend the curve. The UK’s net-zero target must be placed at the heart of the recovery.”

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