The reining in of targets for CO2 reductions in housebuilding in the UK is likely to have a disproportionately large impact. The impact will be on those who never took the idea of climate change seriously, and who thought, and probably still do, that UK profits are more important than faraway lives.
When JFK said that the US was going to the Moon, he did it for a number of reasons, ambition was only one of them, stimulating technical development was another, and of course to beat the Russians to it. When the going got tough and some astronauts died, the US Govt didn’t say, hold on! this is too tough, lets go to the Moon , but instead of landing, lets just fly around it and come home again, thats much safer and nearly as good. They stuck with it and they have been reaping the industrial benefits of the space programme ever since. Some estimates put the economic benefits of the space programme at seven times the costs.
The progress of technical innovation in the UK in the last few years has been huge, many large companies, including some UK based ones and some European, have carried out a programme of technical development to prepare themselves for the low carbon agenda. Millions of pounds have been spent, new products have been tested and put on the market. It has been a fascinating and rewarding time to be involved in housing design.
My concern is that this is now going to stop. Some UK products are already on a par with their European counterparts in terms of thermal performance, particularly windows. But many others still lag behind. It is now less likely under the Coalition that we will see much more development of high performing building fabric. Our opportunity to become world leaders in this area, with the potential for huge overseas sales is now likely to disappear. Instead we will continue to import the highest performing products from Europe and from further overseas. In the construction industry, as in all other UK markets, we will continue to fool ourselves that we are developing low carbon solutions, when what we are really doing is exporting the carbon for manufacturing to other countries instead. This would not be so bad if we were exporting our carbon to countries that were in need of an economic boost, but China is doing just fine, and much of Europe is doing rather better than we are, so the timing of this could hardly be worse.
This lack of courage is probably typical of a new and very young government, concerned about the balance of payments above all else, but the balance of payments today is only part of the picture, the long term picture should also be considered. We need to continue to develop our low carbon industry, to strengthen our knowledge about the impact of climate change, mitigation and adaptation. We need to do this to help other countries less fortunate than us to manage their way through difficult times, but also to keep our skills relevant in a frequently changing skills market.
The UK has played a disproportionately large role in creating the problems caused by climate change, we are one of the top polluters in history. We played our part in creating the problem, it would be morally wrong, and a huge missed business opportunity, for us not to play our part in providing the solutions.