We can achieve zero carbon by 2050 but policy must change dramatically, says Julie Hirigoyen, Chief Executive of UKBC.


The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) has launched a Net Zero Whole Life Carbon Roadmap for the UK Built Environment  detailing the necessary actions government and industry must take to achieve net zero across the sector.

The built environment is directly responsible for 25% of the total UK carbon footprint, and therefore has a critical role to play in the national transition to Net Zero. Co-created by industry with over 100 organisations contributing, the Roadmap provides a shared vision and set of actions for achieving a net zero UK built environment by 2050, in relation to construction, operation and demolition of buildings and infrastructure.

The Roadmap quantifies, for the first time, the specific emission reductions across sub-sectors of the built environment that will need to take place year-on-year to meet the 2050 deadline. The analysis includes not only domestic emissions, but emissions related to the consumption of imported construction products and materials. The Roadmap establishes a net zero emissions budget and trajectory to 2050, consistent with wider UK carbon targets and budgets as set-out by the Climate Change Committee (CCC), enabling government and the UK built environment to benchmark progress over the coming years and decades.


Speaking to Architecture Day Editor Isabel Allen at the COP26 House UKGBC Chief Executive Julie Hirigoyen said:

‘After all the talk at COP26 it’s time to act. And this document sets out an action plan for the whole sector to get to zero carbon by 2050. There is clear guidance for architects, engineers, everybody right across the industry. It’s all based on data modelling, and the really good news – as a spoiler alert – the modelling says we can achieve it using technologies and policy suggestions that are on the table today. The reality of course, is that we’re not going to get there unless the policy framework changes quite dramatically. So it needs to influence policy but we need to influence corporate ambition as well.”

The Roadmap sets out policy recommendations for central and local governments to help drive and enable the transition needed to decarbonise the sector. These go beyond the recently published UK Government Heat & Buildings strategy and cover existing homes, existing non-domestic buildings and new buildings as well as for the infrastructure which connects our buildings and industry.

The recommendations include:

1) Nation-wide retrofitting of existing homes.

  • Establish an immediate national programme of “fabric first” home retrofit to make homes efficient, warm, and transition away from fossil fuel heating.
  • Bring forward the cut-off date for the sale of gas and oil boilers to 2030.
  • Reform EPCs and introduce minimum EPC ratings for homes at point of sale by 2028.
  • Remove VAT on energy efficient retrofit building works and introduce variable stamp duty linked to energy performance.
  • Introduce direct government retrofit grants for low-income households.

2) Energy performance disclosure for non-domestic buildings.

  • Introduce mandatory in-use energy disclosure for non-domestic buildings.
  • Accelerate the roll-out of energy performance rating schemes across non-domestic sectors, followed by minimum standards and fiscal incentives.

3) Adoption of a design for performance approach to new buildings.

  • Reform building regulations to introduce Energy Usage Intensity (kWh/m2/yr) targets for new buildings from 2025.Alongside low carbon heating for all new buildings from 2025, introduce space

heating demand limits (kWh/m2/yr), measures to limit peak demand, and minimum standards for currently unregulated key appliances.

4) Whole life carbon measurements and agreed limits.

  • Introduce the regulation of embodied carbon for new buildings and major refurbishments
  • Support and invest in industrial decarbonisation of key construction material supply chains
  • Use planning reforms to prioritise reuse of existing buildings and assets

5) National infrastructure investment based on the net emissions impact.

  • Establish a National Infrastructure Integrator with full oversight of carbon impacts

“The Net Zero Whole Life Carbon Roadmap pulls together disparate strands of recent policy and action into one coherent pathway, with clear recommendations for National Government and Local Authorities, as well as the private sector and the wider industry,” said Hirigoyen. “We urge policy-makers and industry to embed these recommendations into policies and strategies to make good on the promises and commitments of COP26.”


The COP26 House. Photo by Callum Bennetts

Julie Hirigoyen spoke to Isabel Allen at the COP26 House in Glasgow, where Architecture Today is hosting a series of roundtable events in partnership with Medite Smartply.

The modular timber house, which will remain installed on a brownfield site in the centre of Glasgow for the duration of the COP26 climate change conference, is an exemplar of sustainable and Passivhaus building principles. Once the conference is over, the house will be dismantled into its original 1.2 metre-wide panels and reassembled as part of a community of 12 affordable timber houses near Aviemore.