As the global climate summit approaches, we ask leading figures in the profession and wider industry to share one idea they think could help save the planet

Countdown to COP26 graphic

An annual carbon budget

Gary Clark, regional leader of science and technology at HOK

We need to see a “code red” annual carbon budget implemented for UK buildings that aligns with the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) global budget of 500 billion tonnes of emissions over the next 30 years.

If we go above this figure, then we will overshoot the 1.5ºC temperature increase and face inevitable catastrophic climate events.

Based on this, the estimated annual budget for UK buildings is 67 million tonnes of carbon a year for the next 30 years.

Assuming a linear regression, we must meet this target by 2035 to align ourselves with the global IPCC budget. This would equate to cutting 55% of our current building emissions, including for our 45 million existing buildings.

Gary Clark

Gary Clark

How can this can be delivered? 

First, we need everyone to sign up to the RIBA 2030 climate challenge targets.

To ensure that this happens, the government must enshrine these targets in planning and building regulations to align with its legally binding net zero commitments.

What this means is that if a developer cannot achieve net zero targets, then they will have to reduce what is built or pay for offsetting.

This will make refurbishment a more attractive option, since two-thirds of embodied carbon emissions come from within the foundations and superstructure.

Compulsory energy audits by bathroom and kitchen fitters

Robin Nicholson, fellow at Cullinan Studio

One of the biggest challenges facing many of us is how to improve our homes in an environmentally responsible way. Where do you start? Who do you ask?

We know that we can easily get a shiny new kitchen or bathroom from a specialist or builders merchant such as Travis Perkins or B&Q. This will often involve someone doing a survey then producing CAD drawings and a simulation. Installation will involve multiple trades and will almost certainly alter the internal environment and energy demand.

Robin Nicholson NEW

Robin Nicholson

But inviting a stranger into our homes to tell us what to do to make it more comfortable in terms of temperature and humidity and to use less energy sounds scary and expensive. It is easier to settle for a new kitchen, but that is not helping our energy problem.

Done properly, an energy audit would create a pathway for upgrading your home, just as Parity Projects offers to local authorities (

So why don’t we require all kitchen and bathrooms suppliers and installers to provide, within a slightly increased overall cost, a condition survey of the whole house and a strategy to enable it to become net zero in manageable stages.

The additional cost should be marginal and implementation not mandatory, but it should ensure that a new kitchen or bathroom does not preclude the changes that will be needed by 2030 – or make a bad situation worse.

Builders merchants will be able to supply the necessary materials and should be prepared to share the cost with the supplier. At least the massive process of retrofitting the nation’s homes will have begun.