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Carbon Zero: the professional institutions’ climate action plan

Stephen Hodder MBE
Deputy Chair
CIC

In June 2019, under the aegis of the Edge think tank, 25 built and natural environment organisations met at the RIBA with the Chair of the Committee on Climate Change, Lord Deben, to discuss the need for action in the face of climate change. Those attending agreed on an urgent and concerted response to achieving the UK’s 2050 net zero carbon emissions target; to continue to work together to establish shared standards and practice; and to continue to develop professional resources and capacity.

In parallel, the Construction Industry Council, the umbrella forum for professional bodies, research organisations and specialist business associations established a working group to elevate the climate change and biodiversity emergency in its agenda.

Our Council meeting held in November that year heard from many member institutions as to their respective policies on this critical matter. Inevitably, some policies were less developed than others, as were action plans. It was inevitable I guess that there were degrees of overlap and duplication. What was abundantly clear was that, given the scale of the imperative, the need for collaboration and the sharing of knowledge and workload to upskill the professions was essential…and reinforced the outcome from the Edge roundtable.

The CIC issued a joint statement on the Climate Change and Biodiversity Emergency in early 2020, with most of our members agreeing on the urgent need for action.

Carbon Zero: the professional institutions’ climate action plan represents the first concerted output from this commitment; a plan for real action in the face of the climate and biodiversity emergencies, a plan capable of delivering on net zero. The Action Plan has received overwhelming support from 29 institutions and the seven largest engineering and built environment firms in the UK.

The timetable for action is very short, as laid out in December 2020 in the Sixth Carbon Budget: The UK’s path to Net Zero published by the Climate Change Committee and accepted by the UK government in April this year. The UK construction industry has a very significant role to play and needs to act now to put in place the necessary measures to be able to meet its obligations towards the UK achieving its targets to reduce energy demand and carbon emissions, including delivering net zero new buildings no later than 2025.

Actions

The Action Plan will prepare built environment professionals for making the long-discussed transition to becoming an effective and digitally enabled, able to deliver on the challenges and obligations ahead, including the important need to respond to the building safety agenda and delivering safe outcomes.

The Plan identifies 10 areas of work, which embrace cross-cutting interests, developed in close collaboration with a diverse range of institutions, organisations, and individuals. The 10 workstreams, each led by an institution or organisation with vested knowledge, have been developed through a process that has included:

  • Mapping out the roles and responsibilities of the thirty or so CIC members in each workstream, identifying what they can and need to do to ensure their members are actively engaging with the aims of the Plan.
  • Compiling a summary of current activities by CIC members and others, relating to achieving the aims of the Plan
  • Identifying synergies in CIC members’ and others’ activities
  • Identifying gaps and necessary additional activity, for example, the means for assessing what good looks like by way of benchmarking, targets, and case studies
  • Collaborating with each other wherever required, both within and outside the CIC membership.

The actions have been divided into three priority groupings: short-term, medium term and longer term. They will be commenced immediately, achieved within the next 2 to 3 years and be established and consolidated within the next 5 years, respectively. The medium-term objective is for the professional institutions to enable all built environment professionals to become energy and carbon advocates –whatever their discipline – using PI members’ professional standards as the mechanism to initiate up-skilling, ultimately making low carbon competency a mandatory element of being a built and natural environment professional. In the longer-term, the great majority of built environment professionals; properly supported by legislation and standards, guidance, tools, training, and education; must be fully able to design a functional and safe environment with minimum use of resources and achieve net zero carbon reduction targets for all their significant projects.

This will be mirrored in the far greater regulatory focus on CPD and competence that the new, post-Grenfell, building safety regime will introduce and the timeline for implementation will need to align with the deadlines for action required under that new system.

To support the Action Plan the professional institutions and other signatories will establish an interorganisational climate action network for the purpose of promoting, and engaging, climate action among their members and they will develop and implement proposals for monitoring and reporting on progress against the Action Plan through the CIC.

It is recognised that the professional institutions will require the involvement of government, outside organisations, companies, and individuals, but they have an essential leadership and enabling role. In response to this, actions are divided into those that the professional institutions can accomplish by themselves or acting together, and those that require engagement with the wider industry.

The actions by themselves are not sufficient for the scale of the challenge, but they are essential, and will take the construction sector closer to the start of its transition to becoming an effective and digitally enabled industry, able to deliver on the challenges and obligations ahead.

There is no time to lose, and this unprecedented institutional alliance will bring collective skills, knowledge, and influence in support of the necessary changes critical to the decarbonisation of the construction industry.

We now need to start delivering on the actions.

Contributor: Stephen Hodder MBE is Deputy Chair of CIC and Chairman of Hodder + Partners

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