The UK was a Green Leader – Can the Same Be Said Now?

There is no doubt about the soft power of the UK. As a company that has led its global growth through the great secret weapon of the Department for International Trade, we have been privileged to present our smart and green technology around the world, which has led to us establishing our overseas offices and sales. But, the UK is in a volatile state right now – turning its back on many of its green policies – dismissing the incredible work done by Alok Sharma at COP26. 

The appointment of a new PM has led to massive upheavals for politics and the economy. The pound has slumped to record lows, and MPs are sending in letters of no confidence about Liz Truss. Safe to say, it’s all a bit of a mess.

One thing that has taken the biggest hit is the country’s sustainability initiatives. In 2019, the UK became the first economy to commit to becoming net-zero by 2050 in an effort to keep global temperatures below rising 1.5C. This deadline is approaching fast. In fact, to attain the 1.5C target, global emissions have to be reduced by at least 45% by 2030. With the route we are heading down now, it is not going to happen.

Liz Truss has faced criticism time and time again for her apparent dismissal of the climate crisis. Already, she has received backlash from groups like Wildlife Trust for plans to create ‘investment zones’ – areas of development that would override green rules for nature protection. She also seems intent on keeping the country hooked on fossil fuels, with little concentration on developing renewable energy solutions. 

On top of this, she has come under fire for placing Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS) under review. ELMS are a series of grants that are awarded to farmers for sustainable farming, local nature recovery, and landscape recovery, to support farm enterprises during the climate crisis. Truss has now faced backlash from farmer’s unions for taking the country in the opposite direction to positive change, and putting their livelihoods and profits at risk. 

Truss and her cabinet appear to be on a mission to turn the UK from a beacon of green leadership to a country focused only on profit at the expense of the environment. As we head off to Viet Nam in a few weeks with 8 UK smart city companies to work with the Vietnamese on accelerating their digital cities, it is with shame that we look at what we are doing here in the UK contrasted with the incredible enthusiasm and focus to dramatically cut the carbon emissions and hit the net-zero targets that were set by Alok Sharma is Glasgow last year. 

Leading on from the UK’s initial 2019 pledge, a number of regulations were put in place to hold enterprises accountable for their carbon output. As we’ve spoken about before, the building and construction industries pump out over a third of the total global emissions each year. The offices that we work in are carbon giants. And many of them are being run in a way that is neither efficient nor sustainable. 

This is where government regulations are vital. Reining in the mass emissions produced by our commercial buildings is one of the most important components of hitting the net-zero targets that we have set for ourselves. 

When it comes to government regulations, the UK has often been a leading policymaker for corporate disclosure. For example, as of April this year, the UK is the first G20 to make it mandatory for companies to measure and disclose their climate-related risks and opportunities. These are aligned with guidelines from the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). TCFD recommendations are now also being used by a number of other countries, such as the US and Japan, to hold their corporations accountable.

As well as official government regulation, there has been a greater push for the acknowledgement and disclosure of a building’s occupier emissions. Before, businesses would only have to disclose Scope 1 – direct emissions coming from the organisation (e.g. furnaces or transportation) – and Scope 2 – indirect emissions coming from energy production – emissions. 

Occupier emissions would typically fall under the Scope 3 category – emissions produced that are not owned or controlled by the organisation – and historically have not been widely reported. However, there is now more pressure to disclose the emissions produced by a building’s occupants, particularly as they can amount to 75% of a building’s total carbon output. The logic here is that companies should be responsible for the entirety of their emissions, including those of their employees when they work from the office.

In London, regulations to achieve net-zero are going a step further. This is evident with Greater London Authority’s ‘London Plan’ rolled out in 2021, which requires all new developments to be zero carbon. If developers cannot achieve this, they can offset their emissions at a rate of £95 per tonne of CO2. 

Right now, we don’t know how these established regulations will fare under the new leadership. Truthfully, we don’t even know how long Truss will stay in power or whether she will ever recover from the current economic disaster. But, seeing how other nature-based regulations are set to be overturned, people are right to be worried. 

Just like most of the world, the UK is taking too long to implement the changes needed to actually hit net-zero targets. Without rapid action, we are going to fly right past these targets, and then we’ll be in big trouble. 

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