25 May 2011

Greenish Deal

The fourth carbon budget set out by the energy secretary Chris Huhne in parliament last week indicates that on paper the UK is still committed to a 60% reduction in carbon by 2030 and the ultimate 80% by 2050, with an interim target of 50% cut set for 2025. There are two provisos that have been reported which provide an opt out; firstly if EU competitors fail on similar aims and secondly another departmental review that is set for three years time towards the end of the current parliamentary term.

HM Treasury don’t see the implementation of the policy as being good for business in the UK given their opposition to the adoption of the renewed targets. Perhaps the fact that emissions only fell to their current levels due to recessionary inactivity was playing upon their minds? Big business has similarly used its concerns to secure some concessions to ensure competitiveness. Wasn’t this what the feed in tariff incentive was supposed to do for the emerging Photovoltaic industry until the government recently scrapped its upper tier? The Committee for Climate change estimates that domestic customers are expected to see fuel bills rise by £1 a week until 2020, with little immediate opportunity to minimise their energy use due to the poor quality of the country’s housing stock. The emergence of the Green Deal in late 2012 will begin to offer the 26 million households funding to pay for improvements to the energy efficiency of their properties, with payback spread through future energy bills. Looking at some of the results from the current retrofit for the future programme this will be an expensive and disruptive process. Will the deal be inclusive enough for those groups in society where the price of energy is such a critical part of their weekly budget? This is a social group that will not have the benefit to play the international carbon market that the UK advocates for big carbon neural businesses, purchasing under priced carbon credits. Perhaps this is a true reflection of the current UK economy which is financial sector heavy and manufacturing light.

The fact that the UK government has, and continues, to set the agenda globally on targets offers confidence to those who wish to invest in low carbon technologies and redress the balance towards manufacturing and design expertise. The recent media discussion of the Danish company Vestas, who supply 40% of the world’s off shore wind turbines, returning to the UK with a planning application for a new factory on a site in Sheerness may be evidence of this. 2000 jobs are estimated to be created, a first step on the Campaign Against Climate Change trade union group’s ‘One Million Climate Jobs’ programme. Will the UK property sector follow suit? Does the architectural profession have the skills or desire to lead, or will they just follow when required by legislation and resort to inappropriate
technological fixes to chase the BREEAM ratings?

There are plenty of sustainability conferences on the architectural glamour calendar, but limited representation by the profession at those events looking at the performance of our buildings post completion. At the recent British Institution of Facilities Management (BIFM) sponsored Facilities Show service engineers were again the profession leading the debate. The realm of the Facilities Manager is one the architectural profession should watch carefully, we have something to learn from those who run and have the ear of those occupying the buildings that we design for them- increasingly they are advising on the procurement of building projects. An opportunity exists for the profession to share in benefits from both the Green Deal and wider carbon budget if we can move the debate on from one that focuses so much on the architectural image to focus more on users.

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