Phoebe MacDonald, RIBA Senior Policy and Public Affairs Adviser, summarises Growing back better: the latest report from the Environmental Audit Committee. The report echoes RIBA’s own recommendations on how the built environment can support a green economic recovery.
Last year, I wrote a blog outlining how the built environment can help the UK reach its net zero goals while also supporting an environmentally friendly recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. In that blog I spoke about our written response to the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) inquiry, Greening the post COVID recovery, and in December 2020, Andrew Forth, our Head of Policy and Public Affairs, also gave oral evidence to the Committee.
Earlier this week the EAC shared their findings in Growing back better: putting nature and net zero at the heart of the economic recovery, which presents several recommendations on how the UK can “build back better” post-pandemic.
The report is extremely encouraging. It echoes key RIBA recommendations to set embodied carbon targets for new homes, front-load funding for energy improvement works and the increase the use of “green taxation” to drive change.
Those familiar with the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge will be aware of the importance of reducing embodied carbon to help reach net zero. By choosing materials wisely, we can significantly reduce the amount of carbon emitted during a project – and clear targets will help to ensure this.
Taking our written response and oral evidence on board, the EAC has recommended that the government set embodied carbon targets for the construction of new homes. The report goes on to say that introducing these targets will “increase demand for low carbon materials, thereby stimulating growth in low emission manufacturing of traditional, local materials and promoting the use of new low carbon materials.” It is positive to see MPs acknowledging the importance of embodied carbon: a key RIBA policy ask.
In addition to embodied carbon targets, the RIBA has been long calling on the government to introduce a National Retrofit Strategy: a long term policy and investment programme to upgrade the energy efficiency of our housing stock. But this requires substantial and sustained government funding. We have therefore been urging the government to bring forward the £9.2 billion pledged for energy efficiency improvements over the next five years, and it’s positive to see the EAC support this too.
What about taxes? Our recent report, Greener Homes – decarbonising the housing stock, looks at how existing tax levers, such as Stamp Duty Land Tax, could be altered to incentivise those who are “able to pay” to retrofit their home. Greener Homes makes the case for a sliding scale of stamp duty payments, where the most efficient homes pay much less tax than the least. While the EAC haven’t bought into this idea specifically, their report does recommend a shift towards “green taxation” – and that’s a good sign.
Finally, the report notes that the Committee will soon announce an inquiry into the sustainability of the built environment. Given that buildings are responsible for around 40% of carbon emissions, this is extremely welcome.
The government will now consider these recommendations and will respond in due course. While we await the Committee’s next inquiry on the sustainability of the built environment, we will continue to lobby policy makers on behalf of architects to ensure that the built environment is at the forefront of the green recovery.