Our built environment is lagging behind when it comes to reducing emissions and preparing for climate change. Heating buildings are a high proportion of the UK carbon footprint, yet insulation installation rates are low, uptake of heat pumps is minimal and we’re still constructing buildings with traditional carbon-intensive heating systems.

The built environment also determines our vulnerability to weather and climate events. Measures to prepare for climate change are therefore essential to manage risks to health and wellbeing. Sadly local planning policies and building regulations are failing to reduce the risks of higher temperatures and extreme rainfall which are expected to increase with climate change.

The good news is that there are many low-cost actions we can take. Energy efficiency improvements to existing buildings can reduce emissions, cut energy bills, and help tackle fuel poverty. New homes designed to be highly energy efficient and to incorporate low-carbon heating systems, can keep bills down and avoid costly retrofit in future. Installing heat pumps and low-carbon heat networks can develop new supply chains and increase awareness of unfamiliar technologies.

A long-term approach to planning and designing our built environment also creates opportunities to manage climate risks cost-effectively. Standards are needed to reduce the risk of overheating in new homes, whilst further action should be taken to assess and reduce the risk in existing buildings. Preserving and creating green spaces can help to reduce surface water flooding and overheating, whilst improving mental health and air quality.

The challenges are clear and the solutions are available. Now it’s time for action.

Adrian Gault

Acting Chief Executive at the Committee on Climate Change

Adrian Gault is the Acting Chief Executive at the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the independent body which advises the government on meeting carbon targets set by the 2008 Climate Change Act. He has been a member of the Government Economic Service since 1980. He joined the CCC in 2009, and has previous experience in the Department of Health and Social Security, HM Treasury and Department for Transport. This has included work on environmental taxation, energy modelling and projections.