Committee on Climate Change outlines priorities for built environment if UK is to hit net-zero target by 2050

The government needs a national retrofit programme to address leaky old buildings and to urgently bring in a "long overdue" move to zero-carbon new-build homes if it is to meet its 2050 "net zero" carbon target.

The government’s statutory advisor, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), has published its progress report on efforts to cut emissions, outlining what it says needs to happen urgently if the UK is to reach its target of net zero-carbon emissions by 2050.

Ash Sakula zero carbon terrace

Zero-carbon homes designed by Ash Sakula Architects

The report said the cancelling of the 2016 zero-carbon homes target had damaged progress towards improving the standard of new build, and called the planned introduction of a new Future Homes Standard in 2025 "long overdue."

It said a national retrofit programme for existing homes should be a clear investment priority, backed by a digital "green passport" which ensured necessary measures had been undertaken.

It also said the government needed to urgently address the issue of low-carbon heating for homes and other buildings, phasing out the new installation of gas boilers by 2035 at the earliest.

The 196-page report said: “[It] must take low-carbon heating from a niche market in the UK to the dominant form of new heating installation by the early-2030s.

“It should be supported by a national effort to improve the energy efficiency of UK buildings along with ensuring their safety and comfort as the climate warms.” 

It also appeared to directly contradict the government's new regulations, introduced in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, banning the use of combustible materials in the external wall of buildings, which supporters of the use of timber in new homes say has damaged what was previously a growing market. The report said the government should: "Develop plans to rapidly scale up the levels of wood used in construction".

Paul Tremble, chief strategy officer at WSP, said“This acts as a powerful reminder that as the UK plans its recovery, no plan will be good enough unless it embeds the principles of decarbonisation, circular economy and resilience, from policymaking all the way to project delivery. 

“The CCC confirms that it is possible to deliver an improved economy, better public health, greater biodiversity and resilient places, but only if decisive action is taken and meaningful finance allocated. There will be a tension between building back better and building back quicker in the months ahead.”

>> Also read: Architects join business leaders urging PM to prioritise sustainable recovery


Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive at UKGBC, said: “We echo the CCC’s call for the government to take low-carbon heat from a niche market in the UK to the dominant form of installation by the early 2030s and their calls for a national effort to improve the energy efficiency of UK buildings.

"We look forward to government urgently bringing forward their manifesto pledges to kickstart energy efficiency retrofit in fuel-poor households and the social housing and public sectors. Also welcome is the committee’s focus on the need to address embodied emissions, which will come into sharp focus as we drive down operational energy use." 

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The CCC is calling on the communities department to ensure the remit of the new buildings safety regulator covers climate change mitigation and adaption, while it also wants plans to rapidly scale up the levels of wood used in construction – a call which is at odds with the combustible cladding ban.

The report also highlighted the need for reskilling and retraining programmes.

It said: "New and updated skills are needed in the transition to net zero and to adapt to the changing climate.

"In particular, new support to train designers, builders and installers is urgently needed for low-carbon heating (especially heat pumps), energy and water efficiency, passive cooling, ventilation and thermal comfort, and property-level flood resilience."

>> Also read: Building Regs changes ‘not fit to meet net-zero target’


Key findings

Investment priorities in the months ahead:

  1. Low-carbon retrofits and buildings that are fit for the future
  2. Tree planting, peatland restoration and green infrastructure
  3. Energy networks must be strengthened
  4. Infrastructure to make it easy for people to walk, cycle, and work remotely
  5. Moving towards a circular economy.

Opportunities to support the transition and the recovery by investing in the UK’s workforce:

  1. Reskilling and retraining programmes
  2. Leading a move towards positive behaviours
  3. Targeted science and innovation funding

Green wall