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Glimpsing the summit from Ecobuild

This week we are delighted to feature a guest blog from Paul King, Chief Executive of the UK Green Building Council, who writes of the challenges which lay in wait over the coming years as we make the necessary transition to a more sustainable Britain.

22nd March 2013    |     Paul King: Chief Executie, UKGBC

As Paul describes, sustainability is emerging as a fundamental consideration in the nation’s consciousness, and EcoBuild is a fantastic example of this. Not so many years ago, any mention of a ‘green’ construction event would have been dismissed as something exclusively for sandal-wearing hippies; now, the low-carbon, low-energy credentials of any new product or service is proudly shouted from the rooftops in events large enough to pack out the London ExCel! This is as it should be, and is a forceful sign of what we could achieve with integrated and well-thought solutions to the UK’s energy problems.

Normally I look forward to a relatively quiet period after Ecobuild, because frankly it’s exhausting. This year though, there’s been no let up, and while I confess to feeling a little tired, the adrenaline is flowing and I feel quite exhilarated. We have an enormous mountain to climb, but once in a while, in spite of all the forecasts to the contrary, the clouds clear for a moment, and you get a glimpse of the summit, and a sense of what it might feel like to be standing at the top and soaking up the most amazing view.

Let me describe that mountain. It’s summit is 2050, the point in time by which the Climate Change Act says we have to achieve an economy-wide 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions to avoid the worst effects of climate change. If we achieve that reduction, we’ll be emitting carbon at about the same rate as we were in 1850. That is, we’ll be aspiring to mid 21st century lifestyles, with mid 19thcentury emissions. Oh yes, and there will be roughly three times as many of us. And about 80 per cent of the homes and buildings we’ll be living and working in will be ones we’re living and working in today, based on current build rates. And that means we have to massively improve the performance of more homes than there are minutes between now and 2050. Fancy a climb?

The amazing thing is that people do climb mountains of all kinds, all the time. And this one, while certainly very challenging, is not impossible to conquer. We have 36 years, and a lot can happen in that time. The first gas light was introduced in 1792 and by 1826 almost every town and city across Britain was gas lit. In 1881 our first power station produced electricity, by 1910 all new homes had electricity and by 1926 we had the National Grid. The double glazing industry took off in the 1980s and by 2007 83 per cent of UK homes had at least some installed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those people who believes we can deal with climate change with a technical fix; we can’t. But I am one of those people who believes that with a very clear sense of direction, a certain amount of courage and conviction, we can climb mountains.

In 2006 Housing Minister Yvette Cooper told us to climb a mountain called Zero Carbon. She said there would be base camps at 2010, 2013 and a summit at 2016. Despite some terrible storms and on-going gloomy forecasts, we’ve arrived at 2013 and will soon learn what the next stage of the journey will look like. George Osborne said in his Budget on Wednesday we will have that clarity by Summer recess. But what’s remarkable is that Zero Carbon, like Everest, is no longer a mountain being climbed by one or two pioneers, it is being approached by a whole army of product manufacturers, designers, contractors and developers for whom it has become accessible on the back of a huge amount of investment, innovation and a Darwinian belief in the survival of the fittest

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