Public Sector Focus

13.04.17

Lead by example on carbon reduction

Source: PSE Apr/May 17

PSE reports from this year’s Carbon Trust Public Sector Conference.

One of the key messages to come out of this year’s Carbon Trust Public Sector Conference was that the sector needs to highlight the importance and business case for moving to a low-carbon economy.

Speaking at the event, which attracted over 200 attendees, Tim Pryce (pictured bottom left), head of public sector at the Carbon Trust, stated that public sector organsiations, from universities to the NHS, are some of the most trusted in our society, “and, at the moment, in the post-truth world that we inhabit, it is really important that trusted organisations are putting out the business case for why acting on carbon is important”. 

Pryce added that it is “crucially important” that every public sector body leads by example “on your own estate, buildings and operations” to show that “you care enough to decarbonise your own assets, fleets and buildings”. 

“We need to shift the flows of finance,” he said. “It is not enough to just accelerate the finances into low-carbon projects, as vital as it is. We need to shift finance away from high-powered infrastructure. I think public bodies have a vital role to play in this.” 

Investors also need to better understand the returns of a low-carbon economy, explained Pryce, and particularly understand the long-term risks from a high-carbon economy.

 “External engagement is vital,” he noted. “It is really important to make the business case for why carbon reduction is good, not just in terms of avoiding climate change, important though that is, but also in terms of air quality, health, warmer and more comfortable homes.” 

Retrofit challenge

During the conference, of which PSE was the official media partner, Tony Lloyd (pictured top left), Greater Manchester’s interim mayor, reflected that one of the biggest problems facing the region and the country is retrofitting buildings. 

“How can we incentivise people to retrofit their homes, to ensure the technologies that do exist are affordable?” he said, adding that cities are the fundamental link to solve the retrofit issue, because they can apply scale but be “small enough to have delicacy of touch”. 

“These are big, big challenges and it is a big agenda,” stated Lloyd. “But politically and technically, if we can take it on in GM, we can take it on everywhere in this country.” 

Shirley Rodrigues (pictured bottom right), London’s deputy mayor for environment and energy, added that the capital is leading the way in setting a bold ambition to become a zero-carbon city by 2050, “but this isn’t something that we can achieve on our own”. 

Outlining the ambitions of the mayor, Rodrigues said that she expects the capital’s draft integrated London Environment Strategy to be ready for public consultation in spring/summer 2017. 

“It requires a combination of local action, city-wide intervention and a strong regulatory and policy framework from central government,” she explained, adding that retrofitting homes and buildings was also a major challenge in London. 

“Government needs to set its rules and regulations, and create a stable policy environment to foster investment and innovation,” argued Rodrigues. “The chopping and changing of policy, which has happened in this area in the past several years, has really undermined investment, providing uncertainty rather than the certainty we need.” 

Responding to the retrofit challenge, Pryce added that the Carbon Trust is rolling out a lot of help to support housing associations and local government, “particularly on how best to carry out housing retrofit programmes in a way that both cuts carbon and improves the quality of life for people living in those houses”. 

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Carbon reduction targets

GM’s Lloyd also told delegates that taking a ‘business as usual’ approach will not allow the region to hit its 80% carbon reduction targets by 2050 and is “not an option”. 

During his keynote, he highlighted the region’s work to reduce its carbon footprint, including Smart Systems and Heat, one of three national pilots with the Energy Systems Catapult to deliver energy master-planning; the £20m public buildings efficiency project; work with regards to heat networks; and funding for electric vehicle recharging infrastructure. 

However, Lloyd admitted that while progress has been made, “much more must be done” to drive the low-carbon agenda locally and nationally. 

“If we adopt business as usual processes we will hit our 2020 [low-carbon] ambition, but we won’t get the 80% reduction by 2050 that we’re committed to, and we certainly won’t go further. Business as usual is not an option,” he said. 

Following on from this, Professor Jim Skea, RCUK energy fellow & professor of sustainable energy at Imperial College London, stated that the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), of which he was a founding member, “broadly agreed with a principle of a net zero target, but are very clear that before you do such a thing, you need evidence that it is actually achievable”. 

He added that measures that reduce climate change also tackle other problems too, but efforts must be made to bridge policy gaps to develop an effective path to meet CO2 budgets and 2050 targets. 

“Probably one of the most overused words in carbon policy is ‘or’. We can do retrofit building or we can do new homes,” he explained. “We are so ambitious there is no room for ‘or’. We need and, and, and. We must do all these things if we are to hit ambitious carbon targets.” 

Prof Skea said there is much national and international interest in how cities can tackle the carbon issue, “and the more progress we make on basic things at the city-level on heat, and renewable energy, the less we need for untested technical fixes”. 

But his advice to the sector on pursing the low-carbon agenda was “don’t run before you can walk”. 

“That was a message from the CCC,” he stated. “There is a limited carbon budget globally, so we should be doing the obvious things which should hopefully reduce the need to do much more difficult things in the future.” 

Throughout the day delegates were able to attend a number of masterclass sessions covering a wide range of topics, including urban design and planning; decentralised energy and heat networks; sustainable estates and systems; and smart cities. 

Greater collaboration to overcome barriers 

Richard Rugg, managing director of programmes and cities at the Carbon Trust, also highlighted the responses to some pre-conference questions about attitudes towards climate change. 

Asked whether organisations are currently performing better on climate change than last year, 60% of delegates said yes, 35% reported the same, and 5% said no. Another positive, he reflected, was that 45% thought their organisation was more committed to taking action on climate change. 

Slightly more concerning was that 38% said that lack of internal ownership is the biggest barrier to tackling climate change. “The second biggest barrier is lack of budget (29%),” said Rugg. “And the third is related to the first, budget holders won’t sign off on efficiency projects.” 

Discussing the findings, he concluded: “It is clear that an awful lot has changed since the first conference we ran 13 years ago, and really amidst the noise of all the change we are saturated with, it is perhaps more important than ever that we collaborate within the public sector and with our friends in the private sector to make sure we progress urgent action on carbon reduction and resource efficiency.”

For more information

W: www.tinyurl.com/PSE-Carbon-Trust

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