It seems strangely appropriate to be discussing PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) annual "Low Carbon Economy Index" on 2degrees, since their key finding is that with current levels of CO2 emissions this target will not be hit and we are likely to see global temperature rises of 6°C if current emissions levels continue. To achieve the 2°C target would require cuts in carbon of 5.1% every year from now to 2050! Keeping to the 2°C carbon budget will require unprecedented and sustained reductions over four decades. PwC's assessment is that Governments’ ambitions to limit warming to 2°C appear highly unrealistic and that up to 6°C seems to be much more likely.
|Global warming is forecast to exceed 2°C|
target and could reach up to 6°C
To reinforce the point UN research has also recently been published showing that the last decade has been the hottest since records began and that this increase in temperature is accompanied by weather patterns that are becoming more extreme and unpredictable. Yet some politicians, particularly those on the right, seems to think that fracking is a good idea to address our fast approaching energy supply crisis and that yet more CO2 released into the environment will be alright: really?
So what should government be doing with this intelligence and how should policy be developed to respond to a threat of global significance? Well I would suggest that there are a number of polices that should be adopted immediately to ensure that our economy is safeguarded from these risks and is optimised to address the threats and opportunities that this environmental crisis presents.
The first and most important step is to base all of our future energy policies on the fact that we have dramatically reduced demand through a comprehensive and thorough refurbishment campaign. The UK should invest in “negawatts” before it spends even a single penny on new power generation capacity.
I am not saying that this is an easy or risk free strategy, but I believe that it is essential if we are to make the strategic adjustments that are required to rebalance our economy, dramatically cut our reliance on imported gas and nuclear power and create a maximum demand that can be met by renewable technologies with appropriate, intelligent power storage solutions.
To achieve the refurbishment and performance upgrade of our entire existing building stock will require a paradigm shift in the property and construction industries along with a concerted and collective effort not achieved since the war. I would argue that it is far too important to be left to 5 year government terms or party politics and may even demand a new political consensus.
Training will be required to create an army of highly skilled building technicians able to undertake this work of national importance; creating a valuable and productive workforce from our currently underemployed youth. The legacy of this period of national renewal will be a new model construction industry, populated by professional and highly skilled workers able to deliver new build and refurbishment projects to outstanding levels of performance.
But we should not stop there! As part of the revolution we should democratise and decentralise power generation by embedding localised generation throughout the country, close or better still, within existing communities. This will change occupant behaviour by making each householder or building operator a producer rather than simply a consumer and has the potential to deliver up to 30% energy savings simply by cutting out transmission losses that occur between remote power stations and the distant communities they supply.
This decentralised approach to power generation makes it possible to harness the waste heat that is created as part of the generation process and use it to directly heat buildings and provide hot water. To facilitate Combined Heat and Power(CHP) or better still Combined Cooling Heat and Power (CCHP) systems will require new Community Infrastructure in the form of thermal mains that will transport heat between power plants and buildings. Investment will also be required to increase thermal storage capacity to help smooth the jagged delivery of renewable solar thermal heating systems.
The UK has signed up to achieve an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 yet there is still no coherent policy linking supply with demand. Time is fast running out to make the scale and magnitude of changes within our economy to meet our international commitments and even those who see nuclear power as the only answer realise that it is unlikely to be able to deliver sufficient capacity quickly enough to prevent the lights going out in the not too distant future. Urgent reduction of demand must be commenced immediately and pursued with a combination of grant “carrots” and taxation “sticks” to encourage the market to do the right thing.
Regulatory constraints should be developed which ensure that all new development is carbon positive by 2020 and that capitol receipts from new carbon taxation are reinvested in the refurbishment and renewal of our existing building stock, 80% of which will still be in use by 2050. We need to stop building the “Archicouture” of the past, with its obsession with style and shape making, but devoid of meaning, and instead develop a New Sustainable Architecture able to address the urgent issues of our age.