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What buildings policy might look like if we took climate change seriously

06 July, 2019

What buildings policy might look like if we took climate change seriously

Tina Fawcett

Marina Topouzi

Research paper   Policy & Governance

Tina Fawcett and Marina Topouzi


In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C. It called for “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” to reduce the risks of increasing climate change. Energy use in buildings is one of the key contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the UK and EU. Detailed policies to support high standards in new build and acceleration of ambitious retrofit are a necessary part of any serious response to climate change.

This paper begins with a description of key UK policies on energy use in the buildings, and future UK government plans as expressed in the Clean Growth Strategy. It analyses the direction of travel, and looks at the rate of change compared with what will be required to rapidly reduce carbon emissions from the sector. Current buildings policies are insufficient to meet the challenge of climate change. Both positive and negative examples of changes in policy are presented.

A new conceptualization of the contribution of energy demand to delivering net zero goals, developed by CREDS, is introduced. In addition, key characteristics of the buildings sector and its energy use are put forward. Bringing together the role of energy demand, these characteristics of buildings, and the broader literature on buildings and energy policy, we have set out an exploratory set of guidelines for developing policy to reduce carbon emissions from buildings further, faster and more flexibly. These are classified into the guiding principle, approaches to policy creation, expanding the boundaries of policies and focus on quality. These should form the basis for further discussion.

If policy were designed as if we took climate change seriously, according to the guidelines developed, what would this mean for buildings? Fundamentally it would require a momentous change in the culture of construction, so that what is valued moves beyond design, aesthetics and functionality, to include low carbon and highly efficient performance. New targets and approaches to delivering them are required – and this paper contributes to thinking about both.

Publication details

Fawcett, T. & Topouzi, M. 2019. What buildings policy might look like if we took climate change seriously. IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science, Volume 329, Sustainable Built Environment Conference 2019 Wales: Policy to Practice 24–25 September 2019, Cardiff, Wales. doi: 10.1088/1755-1315/329/1/01200Opens in a new tab4 

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