Why should social landlords start decarbonisation now?

There is a Climate Emergency. The sooner social landlords, their contractors and suppliers start to decarbonise their activities, the less risks and costs they will face. The following Q&A explains what the risks are, what can be done and how to get started.


Is there a Climate Emergency?

Yes! The debate is over. There is a Climate Emergency. The UK Government has declared one and over 90% of Local Authorities have followed suit. The most recent IPCC report, Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis confirms that Global Warming is a direct result of human activity warming the atmosphere, ocean and land. It is already 1oC warmer than pre-industrial times. This is causing widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere, and biosphere at an unprecedented scale. Human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe. The evidence is there in news of extreme events such as heatwaves, wildfires, heavy precipitation, droughts, floods and tropical cyclones. In the UK, we have seen the effects with torrential rain being more frequent and causing flash flooding. These events will become even more severe and extreme unless action is taken NOW to prevent Global Warming becoming a catastrophe for the whole world.

In addition, the ice cap will continue to reduce as it melts, and the sea level will rise between 0.28-0.55m by 2100 (with approximately 1.5°C temperature rise) and 0.98-1.88m with higher temperatures. Rising sea levels will affect millions of people living and working in low-lying land, including much of central London bordering the Thames. Existing protection will be inadequate. Many changes due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions cannot be reversed in the short term. At best it will take centuries and at worst millennia, especially the changes in the ocean, ice sheets and global sea level. Over the next 2000 years, global mean sea level will rise by about 2 to 3m even if warming is limited to 1.5°C. This will lead to substantial change in coastlines. At 5°C of warming it would be expected to be in the range 19 to 22m!

Global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions are achieved in the coming decades. Everyone needs to reduce their carbon emissions to meet the Paris Agreement commitment of keeping the global mean temperature rise to well below 2°C and pursuing efforts to hold it to 1.5°C. This will be the focus of COP26 in November.

On 23rd June 2021, the UK government made The Carbon Budget Order 2021 which came into force on 24th June 2021, setting its climate change target to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels. This is in line with the latest recommendation from the independent Climate Change Committee (CCC) in its sixth Carbon Budget to limit the volume of greenhouse gases emitted over a 5-year period from 2033 to 2037. This will take the UK more than three-quarters of the way to reaching carbon net zero by 2050. The government is already working towards its previous commitment to reduce emissions in 2030 by at least 68% compared to 1990 levels through the UK’s latest Nationally Determined Contribution.

The 2021 Carbon Budget will ensure Britain remains on track to end its contribution to climate change while remaining consistent with the Paris Agreement temperature goal to limit global warming to well below 2°C and pursue efforts towards 1.5°C. The CCC explain that alarmingly, new evidence shows the gap between the level of risk the UK faces and the level of adaptation underway has widened. Adaptation action in the UK has failed to keep pace with the worsening reality of climate risk. The Committee comments that the UK has the capacity and the resources to respond effectively to these risks, but it has not yet done so. Acting now will be cheaper than waiting to deal with the consequences and while, it recommends that Government must lead that action, this should not prevent organisations and individuals taking action now.

What does a Climate Emergency mean for you?

Global Warming and the consequent Climate Emergency affects everyone. It is not just a problem for organisations or businesses or Government. Even in the UK, everyone will be affected by more frequent and extreme weather events such as heatwaves, drought, torrential rain and flooding. Both individuals and organisations need to act now.

We all have a role in tackling this Climate Emergency. We can all so something that will help us now and leave a better world for future generations. This can be at home, including what we eat, in our communities and in how we travel, as well as at work.

What is Carbon Net Zero?

While there is the natural desire to reduce carbon emissions as much as possible, it will never be possible to eradicate them completely (a zero-carbon emission world). We can only aim for Carbon Net Zero. This means reducing carbon emissions as far as possible and then, only then offsetting the residual carbon emissions through other means, such as planting more trees or carbon capture, so that the end result is that our carbon emissions are effectively zero.

So, what do you need to understand?

There are three issues you need to understand – Global Warming, Climate Emergency and carbon net zero – these form a hierarchy – cause, effect and mitigation.

  • Global Warming is the fact that the earth’s temperature has risen and is continuing to rise as a result of the carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions we produce, largely from burning fossil fuels, such as petrol or diesel in our cars or gas for heating buildings and to produce electricity. So, we need to reduce our use of fossil fuels by using more renewable energy and also reducing our energy demand by improved energy efficiency in buildings, equipment, manufacturing and transport.
  • Climate Emergency is the consequence of global warming because the earth’s rising temperatures are causing more frequent and extreme weather conditions. For example, flooding, torrential rain, droughts and famines. This means we need to plan for and adapt our buildings and infrastructure to be able to cope with these more frequent and extreme weather conditions.
  • Carbon net zero is what we need to achieve to prevent the earth’s temperature rising by more than 1.5oC and so limit the damage to the climate we have already caused. The UK has the capacity and the resources to respond effectively to these risks but has yet to do so. Acting now to prevent and mitigate carbon emissions, will be cheaper than waiting to deal with the consequences and while there is a natural expectation that Government should take the lead, there is much that organisations and individuals can do to reduce their own emissions now.

What are the benefits of acting now?

An emergency, a Climate Emergency, demands action, action now by everyone. We can all do something now to make a difference and reduce our carbon emissions. The sooner we act, the more we do now to reduce carbon emissions, the quicker we address our Climate Emergency to head off a climate disaster. The CCC’s latest report explains that acting now is cheaper than delaying action.

The Stern Report: The Economics of Climate Change 2006 reached the same conclusion but has not been acted on by any country in the 15 years since the report. This Review assessed a wide range of evidence on the impacts of climate change and on the economic costs and used a number of different techniques to assess costs and risks. From all these perspectives, the evidence gathered by the Review led to a simple conclusion: the benefits of strong and early action far outweigh the economic costs of not acting. Its main findings included:

  • there is still time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, if we take strong action now.
  • climate change could have very serious impacts on growth and development.
  • the costs of stabilising the climate are significant but manageable; delay would be dangerous and much more costly.
  • action on climate change is required across all countries, and it need not cap the aspirations for growth of rich or poor countries.
  • a range of options exists to cut emissions; strong, deliberate policy action is required to motivate their take-up; and
  • climate change demands an international response, based on a shared understanding of long-term goals and agreement on frameworks for action.

While no countries have acted on the Stern Review, some organisations have started acting without waiting for a lead from government. Those businesses and organisations that have started to implement their net zero carbon strategies are now often seeing a commercial and operational advantage. For example, green offices attracting a rental premium. Action now means they will have to invest less in the future to achieve carbon net zero.

How to start? What should social landlords and businesses do first?

Before starting, they need to identify what the most important things they can do to reduce their carbon emissions. Social landlords, contractors, manufacturers and other organisations need to understand their carbon footprint. This involves establishing their current baseline in terms of carbon emissions – how much they produce, where it comes from and where the hotspots are. This needs monitoring and analysis to get the baseline data from utility bills for their premises, transport use (including repairs and maintenance activities) and suppliers (office supplies as well as repairs and maintenance supplies). This baseline data will show what your carbon emissions are now (before you start) and identify your carbon hotspots so that you can target where to start to make the most impact by tackling low-hanging fruit first. This will enable you to monitor progress and to set out a roadmap, with appropriate time-based targets, for reducing your organisation’s carbon emissions.

Establishing your baseline Carbon Footprint is something you can begin now.

Why do you have to work out your own roadmap?

Every business is different, so there will be no silver bullet to solve the problem. While they can help, the government cannot do it for you, nor can a consultancy nor can a contractor. Each business and organisation need to understand their carbon footprint, where and how it produces carbon emissions so they can work out how and when to reduce their emissions. It is a solution you and your business have to resolve but you can learn from what others are doing, which is why the NHMF is producing a new series of Best Practice articles and case studies on Decarbonisation and Carbon Net Zero.


Note: This is part of series of Best Practice articles and case studies that the NHMF is producing https://www.nhmf.co.uk/article/net-zero-carbon-are-you-ready


NHMF is hosting a webinar on Net Zero Carbon on 12 October. You can book here.

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