We need a coherent strategy to achieve net zero

James Hardy

Director and Head of UK Sustainability

Last year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Egypt sent a stark message to the world: global warming of 1.5 degrees is inevitable, and our task now is to keep the rise below two degrees. While this served as a harsh reality-check for many, the much-anticipated follow-up to the previous summit in Glasgow wasn’t without hope. A historic ‘loss and damage’ fund was agreed to support countries already directly impacted by climate change.

As we look to the future, 2023 has brought a more robust and critical assessment of the UK’s net-zero progress in the form of Chris Skidmore’s Net Zero Review, and a surprise departmental reshuffle creating the new Department for Energy Security and Net Zero. This collectively provides UK Government with a perfect opportunity to take stock, rethink its approach and establish a clear plan that industry can align itself to.  

Needing a programmatic approach to the transition 

It’s important first to recognise the positive course the UK has taken; the world’s first long-term legal framework, global leadership in offshore wind, and a key negotiator on the Paris Agreement. That said, the UK’s current approach to delivery needs to change.  

Chris Skidmore recognised this and noted the absence of a strategic long-term policy and funding framework. In line with our recommendations – reflected in the final report – we urged for a coherent, ‘programmatic approach’ to the net-zero transition, encompassing investment, market development and skills to deliver a step-change in green, economic growth. 

A new office for net-zero delivery  

It is not necessarily new initiatives that we need but joined-up thinking. Coordination between departments and sectors is often limited and policies rarely run more than five years. Moreover, while bodies like the existing Construction Leadership Council provide robust long-term policy advice, they are not set up to coordinate delivery.  

Skidmore’s review strongly supports these views and specifically recommends a long-term stable investment plan, and specifically the ’programmatic approach’ – setting out clear targets and then providing a full explanation of the technological, behavioural and strategic levers that need to be used to achieve them. He also calls for the creation of an office for net-zero delivery, which would take on a coordinating role over multiple departments and programmes, and the development of a cross-sectoral infrastructure strategy by 2025.   

To make this happen, we will need a coordinated, cross-sectoral approach with a pipeline of projects across infrastructure, natural resources and real estate – from retrofitting existing buildings to constructing new hydrogen grids or nuclear power stations. Any new coordinating body will need to be cross-party and cross-industry.  

The good news is, there are great examples that demonstrate effective programme-led delivery at both pace and scale: the Infrastructure & Projects Authority (IPA) – which we support – and the extraordinary Vaccine Taskforce.  

Closing the green-skills gap  

We are deeply involved in building green skills across the UK and we believe that any failure to invest in them could derail the big strides already made in creating demand for sustainable development projects.  

For businesses and government to invest in green skills, they need to clearly see a business case for low-carbon projects and sustainable practices. When it comes to evaluating the carbon impact of new development, we aim to play a central role in supporting these investment decisions through the new embodied-carbon calculator tool.  

This tool allows clients to measure the carbon footprint of their projects from cradle to practical completion, and is already informing client decision-making, enabling the cost of carbon to be assessed alongside traditional financials, and the benefits of accelerated investment. 

The scale of the demand for a green-construction workforce is vast. We see this first hand through our leadership role on major retrofit programmes. For retrofit alone, the UK’s requirement for coordinators by 2028 is 30,000 to support home decarbonisation. In the third quarter of 2022, there were only 506 trained coordinators.  

The Construction Leadership Council notes that if the UK is going to retrofit 27 million homes by 2040, we will need 270,000 more workers to deliver this work and 35,000 to plan its delivery – all of whom will need specialised skills to undertake such a task. As such, we welcome Skidmore’s call for a green skills strategy and the creation of net zero ‘retrofit hubs’ at a local level. 

Learning from retrofit 

We use more energy to heat and power our buildings than anything else. But by 2050 all buildings will need a carbon footprint of close to zero. We are proud to be an industry leader in national home retrofit through our support to BEIS with the Social Housing Retrofit Accelerator and the Home Upgrade Grant.  

We believe that the coordinated approach to retrofit is a model for wider net-zero delivery, backed by government seed funding, delivered by industry and cultivated in a private market. 

These schemes inject £1.5 billion of grant funding into the market to enable a scaling of home improvement to around four million homes. This provides a focused ‘starter market’ for residential retrofit, and our assessment is that there are market opportunities for growth of more than £600 billion of capital spend within this sector alone.   

From there, it is easier to see how green skills can transfer into the wider public arena (which is already the focus for the Mayor of London’s ‘Retrofit Accelerator – Workplaces’), and onward into private development. This can in turn help to develop the supply chain and expertise in net-zero development which will go on to benefit the whole built environment.  

Looking to the future 

Our industry knows the opportunities green growth has to offer, and the government can now listen to the findings of Skidmore’s review and draw together lessons to inform a coordinated strategy. A proactive transition plan that builds on previous programmes, invests in developing skills and embraces new, better ways of working will be the key to a greener, more efficient and productive future of net-zero growth. 

For further information contact:

Vicky Shepherd
Associate Director, UK Communications

t: +44 (0) 7814 626680