Following a recent revelation that Highways England has spent a fraction of a £100 million fund set up in 2015 to support clean air projects, the Labour Party announced its intention to force a vote in Parliament on Wednesday to declare a national environmental and climate emergency.
Holding a vote to declare a national environmental and climate emergency is one thing, but when it comes to environment policy and planning we need to put in place tangible steps instead of announcements and debates, with a view to making fundamental decisions on this and other issues.
For a start, it is imperative that the government and businesses work together more to make better use of data to improve efficiency and reduce emissions especially in cities When recently refurbishing a student accommodation block, SPIE measured, during the design phase, the actual use of inhabitants in student buildings in order to get a clear picture of the energy usage. This allowed the team to design and build a system that responded to these demands, thus improving efficiency. Such approaches need to be scaled up to deliver results across towns, cities and the country as a whole. The "Brit Twin" plan is a great example of this. However, it is clear that deep energy refurbishment of the UK's existing buildings is a major element of the overall solution.
Next, we must recognise that sustainability does not only equate to reducing emissions, it has to mean resources in a wider sense. Every year the Global Footprint Network estimates Global Overshoot Day, the point at which humans begin using more of the Earth's resources than can be replenished in that year. In 2018, the Overshoot Day was August 1st - the earliest it has ever been. Consequently, we extract natural resources at a rate that means we need two Earths to support our consumption.
By 2050, 70 percent of our current building stock will still be in use. It is incumbent on us to understand how best to maintain and upgrade these buildings, so that they are appropriate for modern day use, whilst also implementing smart design and maintenance that ensures we use or reuse existing materials and systems to save resources being taken out of the ground - a circular economy is what is needed!
We also need to tackle the largest polluting sector in the UK - transport. Notwithstanding the attention on the rollout of electric vehicles, notably the government's Road to Zero plan, numerous consumer studies have shown that a lack of charging infrastructure is preventing adoption by UK drivers. The deployment of charging infrastructure is not taking place quickly enough and we need a serious reappraisal of government spending and priorities in this and other areas.