Acting on Climate Change:
The Road to Net Zero

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To limit the most dramatic effects of climate change, CO₂ emissions must be reduced to zero by around 2050.

Worldwide however, emissions continue to increase.

Worldwide CO2 Emissions: The Change Needed

Emissions have begun to plateau but a rapid decrease in carbon emitted is needed ahead of 2050 to achieve Net Zero

Net UK Carbon

The UK has somewhat bucked this trend with success in separating economic growth from the increased CO₂ emissions, although rapid change is still needed to achieve the UK’s target for Net Zero by 2050.

Buildings Vs. Power

Changes in the generation of power have been mainly responsible for the reduction in UK CO₂ emissions but, despite tightening regulations, buildings have not followed a similar path.


The production of heat for buildings and their associated activities presents a significant technical challenge for the UK with over a third of emissions coming from this requirement.

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Two thirds of the building stock around today will be present in 2050. The global building stock is set to almost double in that time period.

All buildings will need to operate at Net Zero before 2050. Buildings constructed poorly today will require retrofitting within the next 30 years.

The decisions we make today about constructing and retrofitting buildings will be fundamental if we are not to create further problems along the path to Net Zero.

What Can We Do?

As industry professionals, who carry responsibility for both the quality and performance of the buildings we work on, as well as the materials and products that go into them, we have a substantial role to play in decarbonising buildings and creating places that are resilient to the changing climate that is coming.

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In late 2019 RIBA set out a Climate Challenge for architects, setting out standards for the operational energy, embodied carbon, water use and wellbeing in buildings over the next 10 years.

The UKGBC also began setting out a universal framework for measuring buildings against a Net Zero target, in terms of building operational energy and aspects of embodied carbon.

The Framework will continue to develop in detail and scale over the coming years.

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Climate emergency

Following public pressure, local authorities throughout the UK declared climate emergencies. This has seen a trend in local and regional policy for more ambitious targets for the built environment, pushing ahead of national standards.

These high-level aspirations highlight the poor performance of buildings today, but what needs to change?

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