Can we still meet the net zero challenge?

The UK’s Net Zero Week, which took place last week, served as a timely reminder not to lose momentum and to keep net zero targets front of mind.

Recent years have seen many ambitious pledges by governments to avert the climate change catastrophe and, in 2019, the UK became the world’s first major economy to put its commitments to reach net zero by 2050 into law. To achieve this goal in time, the UK will need to reduce emissions by at least 68% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.

This highlights how close 2030 is and just how much remains to be done to deliver on the promise. Particularly worrying is the fact that the Climate Change Committee revealed in a report at the end of June that the UK is not on track and, unless progress improves, we risk missing key targets.

It’s a sobering wake-up call…

Going above the 1.5C global temperature rise limit set under the Paris Agreement can cause devastating impact and potentially irreversible damage. Recent research from the World Meteorological Organisation shows that some places in the world risk surpassing that limit within the next few years. Even in the UK, every summer already seems to bring a new heatwave record, so there is no denying that the effects of global warming are becoming more visible.

It’s important to remember that every individual, business, and sector has a responsibility and part to play in any effective solution. The built environment’s role is a big one, given that it contributes 40% of the UK’s total carbon emissions, and all of us across the industry must collaborate to radically cut down on carbon emissions and kick-start meaningful change. There’s no time to waste. We certainly need to look to bold new measures and innovation as part of that, but the first step is a mindset shift. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that small actions are just a drop in the ocean when dealing with a challenge of such magnitude. However, every little bit counts.

This has been proven by the CUBE Competition – the UK’s first initiative to tackle the dual challenges of energy efficiency improvement and occupier engagement in commercial buildings, which waste around 30% of their energy. It takes an innovative approach by bringing landlords, building managers and occupiers together, mobilising them to reduce energy consumption through gamification and small changes in everyday behaviours.

CUBE has just marked the end of its first year in the UK with an inaugural awards ceremony and the results are eye-opening. Collectively, the 30 participating buildings that took part have achieved energy consumption reductions of up to 39%. That’s enough to power 5,000 homes for a year! They also managed to save a massive 6,087 tonnes of C02. If we were to apply these savings to all the office space in the UK, we could see a potential 3 million tonne reduction in carbon as well as £3.8 billion in energy cost savings annually. This goes to show how small interventions do add up to both quick wins and cumulative long-term environmental benefits.

With COP28 approaching fast this autumn, attention will again be on how we are turning theory and good intentions into tangible, real action and results when it comes to climate change. It is still possible to reach the UK’s net zero carbon ambitions with more determined and collaborative action, fresh thinking and everyone doing their bit.