Monday, 8 August 2016

The long haul

We have had a little time to reflect in the month since the Brexit vote but regardless of the result, we still have a lot of work to do to meet the UK’s ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions. The referendum outcome had barely even sunk in when, on 30th June, the government committed to the emissions reductions recommended by the Committee on Climate Change to reduce the UK’s carbon output by 57% relative to 1990 levels by 2030. In the light of this, it is even more important than ever that CIBSE and its members work collaboratively as we address the consequences of the vote to leave. It is reassuring to see that the engineering sector reacted swiftly to the vote and the Royal Academy of Engineering has already established a group to look at the potential consequences for the sector, especially in the UK.

Prior success has been led by reducing
emissions by generation  ©Paul Glazzard
My colleague at CIBSE Hywel Davies has written a detailed and informative summary of exactly where we currently sit from a legislative perspective after the vote which makes for sobering reading. While the future isn’t clear and largely hinges on the negotiations of the next few years, the numbers are clear: The UK needs to stick to all of its current climate targets, and set more ambitious ones to meet, if it’s going to hit that 57% goal.

Having said that, the ‘bonfire of the subsidies’ widely feared ahead of the vote doesn’t seem to have taken place yet (although there have been reductions in the Renewable Heat Incentive, announced before the vote). While the many rules and regulations that hold up these targets will take a lot of artful work to unpick, leaving the EU won’t cause it all to collapse around our heads. Just days after the vote, on June 30th, the Government committed to the 57% target and at the same time produced a report on its current progress that detailed what was being done right and what needs to be improved.

The main hero behind the current 38% reduction in emissions since 1990 is electricity generation, which has seen cleaner forms of energy and efforts to de-carbonise fossil fuels pay dividends, but little progress has been made in other areas such as heat provision and energy efficiency. This is where our industry needs to step in. There are potential bumps in the road ahead for our members and their businesses: a cautious foreign property investment sector, industrial relations might yet be spooked by trade negotiations, and big property funds may take a protectionist stance. However, we cannot let these worries affect our commitment to driving sustainability.

It’s tempting in uncertain times like these to hold back on collaboration, wait to see what the market does and keep a suspicious eye on our competitors – but this is actually the time when we need to work together the most. We need to know what the industry is worried about, where it sees opportunities and what it wants a post-Brexit British sustainability sector to look like. If we can get these views across to the politicians in charge of setting the agenda, we have the chance to set targets and policies in this country that are even more ambitious than before. And it is clear that as we seek to make our way in the wider world beyond the EU, our skills and knowledge of sustainability may yet provide new trading opportunities for CIBSE engineers.

CIBSE engineers have the skills and knowledge to take advantage of new markets

If we can get our heads together, survey the industry and decide what we want to change and what we want to stay the same, we can continue to drive forwards. Whilst the EU has in the past played a key role in energy management in the built environment, setting targets and legislating to improve energy efficiency in buildings and products, there is no reason why we have to see Brexit as a killer blow for the UK’s hopes of reaching its climate targets. That role is now down to businesses and organisations like our Institution.

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