“The evidence shows that ignoring climate change will eventually damage economic growth” Sir Nicholas Stern, Chair of the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy gave a stark warning back in 2004.
The renowned Stern Review highlighted scientific evidence showing climate change is a ‘serious and urgent’ issue and it led to several policy changes implemented by Tony Blair’s Labour government, one of them in April 2007 was The Code for Sustainable Homes.
This voluntary national standard aimed to improve the overall sustainability of new builds so design and building techniques could be more in tune with environmental concerns, as well as informing buyers on the environmental impact and likely running costs of their new home.
The Code was intended to play a key role in meeting housing needs and protecting the environment.
There were nine categories including CO2 emissions and surface water run off; the property would be rated on a star system with one star being the entry level and six the highest score.
In 2004 more than ¼ of the UK’s CO2 emissions came from the energy used to run our homes; house construction had an additional impact. In 2009 the total figure was 43%.
The Building Research Establishment (BRE), a former government department, set up the BRE Global Ltd EcoHomes System and with Stroma Accreditations Ltd trained a network of assessors who could appraise the environmental impact of new builds.
The EU target for 2050 is to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95% compared with 1990
At long last it seemed the people in power were taking notice of the people who knew.
You could expect to see at least one form of renewable energy on all new builds including ground source heat pumps and solar energy; and the media played a positive role in highlighting the less damaging construction methods.
So with a growing interest in environmental damage limitation why, you may ask, was The Code for Sustainable Homes scrapped in March 2015?
The coalition government proposed to wind down The Code
The 2013 Budget restated the government’s commitment to implementing a policy of ‘zero carbon homes’ from 2016 with the Zero Carbon 2016 Policy Package.
In November 2013 the Environmental Audit Committee reported on The Housing Standards Review consultation as the coalition government proposed to wind down The Code. In January 2014 the Prime Minister announced “necessary standards” will be consolidated into Building Regulations as soon as possible.
The BRE presented a report to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) that recommended maintaining The Code until Building Regulations were able to deliver genuinely zero carbon homes which was the original target.
The government did not support the need for Building Regulations or a national standard on sustainable materials due in part to EU legislation, relying instead on voluntary practice by construction companies, developers and manufacturers. The EU Construction Products Regulation does not oblige member states to consider sustainability of building materials.
The BRE urged the DCLG not to wind down The Code so that a meaningful policy could be established, but their recommendations fell on deaf ears as the government, guided by the Housing Standard Review, surged forward with their ‘bonfire of red tape’.
They rebranded the policy ‘the new national technical standards’ that will be the equivalent of level 4 under The Code and the BRE have set up a voluntary sustainability standard for new homes: the Home Quality Mark, so property developers can prove their environmental credentials and home buyers can see how environmentally sound their new home is including:
- Resilience to adverse & extreme weather
- Mental & physical health and well-being of occupants
- Increased biodiversity
The latest initiative is the UK’s Zero Carbon Standard 2016 ahead of the Energy Performance of Building Directive (EPBD) target for all new buildings in the EU to be “nearly zero energy buildings” from 2020.
Article 9 of the EU directive states:
- By 31 December 2020 all new builds are nearly zero energy and
- After 31 December 2018 new buildings occupied and owned by public authorities are nearly zero energy
But just what does “nearly” mean and who decides given that no two people could possibly agree; the government’s laissez-faire attitude – “the government does not object to industry taking forward voluntary, self-policed standards” – smacks of a leadership that has demoted the importance of the catastrophic damage being caused to the planet and what is more, with dozens of agencies and organisations being created, the system has become an unwieldy exercise for the benefit of self-interested opportunists.
It seems to me that if our livelihoods are to be protected, populations safeguarded from starvation and the planet saved from destruction, we can no longer rely on our government and it is going to be down to us to ensure our and the planet’s continued survival.
- Have Solar PV panels installed on your roof
- Insulate your loft
- Use recycled goods wherever possible
- Recycle your waste
- Buy more from charity shops and less from discount stores
- Walk rather than use your vehicle
The government may not care, but we should.