New London Architecture

Institutional barriers to climate change

Friday 31 July 2020

Marion Baeli

Partner
PDP London

The second meeting of experts on the net zero challenge for London welcomed some new members to further diversify the group’s perspective. The discussion was very rich and was threefold: to investigate the institutional and cultural barriers to climate change; look at the recent green recovery government package and discuss how far it might go and how cities around the world are preparing for future climate events.

1.     Institutional and cultural barriers to climate change


While it is undeniable that the urgency to tackle climate change has gained momentum over the past year there are some clear barriers to implementing this change. 

After a presentation by Ashley Bateson, the Panel agreed that the first major hurdle is the general low level of ‘carbon literacy’ amongst the public which prevents the understanding of the impact that carbon emitted from buildings in use has on our capacity to control Climate Change (buildings are responsible for 34% Greenhouse gas emissions in the UK) and also prevents behavioural changes to take place. 

Other barriers mentioned were around the lack of regulation enforcement with poor implementation of building regulations, unsuitability of SAP and EPCs, poor resources in local authorities, the reward of beauty in architecture over performance, the lack of appropriate skills and lack of green finance mechanisms. The panel also discussed the shortcoming of the MEP manufacturing sector who needs to be more transparent and disclose the embodied carbon data of their products if we are to be precise about our assessment of buildings’ real carbon footprint.

2.     Green recovery government package – is it enough?


Marion Baeli presented a summary of the recent government fiscal response explaining that the government has allocated a £30bn stimulus plan to protect jobs which includes £3bn for decarbonising housing and public buildings. This £3bn is split in £2bn to retrofit homes via the issue of vouchers of £5k and up to £10k for the poorer families. It was unclear to the group however, whether this £3bn was part of the government plan to spend £8bn on retrofits as announced in 2019 or not.  

The UK has the oldest housing stock in Europe, with a high energy demand per dwelling (which hasn’t changed in at least 10 years due to lack of effective policy and metric) and a high dependency of fossil fuel natural gas for space heating. 

The panel thought that the government should be more ambitious and embrace this unique opportunity to seriously start turning our old leaky houses into 21st century efficient and comfortable homes.

It should address retrofitting in a holistic way and apply both energy efficiency improvements and the decarbonisation of the grid at the same time. It should facilitate de-centralised heating systems ; reduce the VAT to the same levels of the new build sector ; provide an advisory service for people to seek further advice on how to approach retrofits such as the one in New York and study the business case of retrofits in more details to come-up with a financial mechanism that might incentivise owners and developers to make a difference, perhaps via green leases such as those already very common in the commercial sector. 

3.     Resilient cities


As a third part of a very enlightening session, Nils Rage presented some inspiring examples of resilient cities. As part of the effects of climate change, our built environment will be facing some stark conditions going further with increased temperatures, rainfall and winds levels. Our built environment needs to be ready to cope with out of the ordinary weather events and some cities have already started to embrace the challenge. Copenhagen has re-thought some of their paving treatment to respond to the increasing the risk of flooding by installing permeable paving and identifying floodable areas. They are also investing in decentralised infrastructure on a large scale to maximise efficiencies.  Paris seem also to be leading the way with the concept of the ‘15 mins city’ where one could meet most of their needs within a 15-minute walk from their home. 

One particular risk identified by the group was overheating issues. High indoor temperatures would see people, and in particular those most vulnerable, seriously affected, a risk to their health which is not currently sufficiently incorporated within the design of our buildings. 

It is even more of an important topic as we should take into account that the size of dwellings has been shrinking and that local quality green spaces to escape from the heat is not as widely available as it should be.

NLA Expert Panel for the NetZero Programme


Marion Baeli

Partner
PDP London


Net Zero

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