In late 2018, the IPCC issued a stark warning. It clearly established that achieving the ambitions of the Paris Climate Agreement, limiting warming to 1.5°C to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, will require action at an unprecedented pace and scale.

Deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from the global economy are required by 2030, with net zero emissions by 2050. This enormous challenge can only be tackled by governments, businesses and civil society working together to take ambitious action to radically reduce emissions.

The World Green Building Council is catalysing the construction and property industry to lead the transition to a net zero carbon built environment, through its Advancing Net Zero campaign, which the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) has embraced and adopted for a UK context. In the UK, the operation of buildings accounts for around 30 per cent of emissions, mainly from heating, cooling and electricity use. While for new buildings, the embodied emissions from construction can account for up to half of the carbon impacts associated with the building over its lifecycle.

The term ‘zero carbon’ has a particular connotation in recent years of UK Government climate policy. However, this report is intended to represent a distinctly new chapter. Whereas historical ‘zero carbon’ policies focused only on operational energy and modelled performance in new buildings, this report very clearly expands the scope to in-use performance and to encompass the whole life carbon impacts of both new and, crucially, existing homes and buildings. Moreover, this is not exclusively or even primarily, a report about government policy. This report outlines an overarching framework of consistent principles and metrics that can be integrated into policy, but primarily can be used as a tool for businesses to drive the transition to a net zero carbon built environment.

The framework has been developed by an industry task group of businesses, trade associations and non-profit organisations, undertaken in a spirit of collaboration and consensus-building. It provides guidance on the definition of net zero carbon buildings – both homes and non-domestic – and a way to demonstrate how a building has achieved net zero carbon status. It focuses on carbon impacts that can be readily measured and mitigated today – operational energy and embodied impacts of construction.

However, the framework cannot be static, and this iteration is only the first step. The scope and minimum requirements of the framework will need periodic improvements and updates over the next decade, in order to increase robustness and provide sufficient stretch for industry to lead the transition to net zero whole life carbon buildings.

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