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The answer to cutting CO2 is in our hands

Practical solutions from professionals, not empty words and taxes is the way forward, says Graham Watts

On 11 June, Government ministers will unveil a Strategy for Sustainable Construction that has been developed jointly with industry.

I don’t want to try to second-guess what the key elements of this strategy will be but I’m sure that there will be a lot of worthy words, much exhortation of industry to do better and a fair bit of puff from the Government without much commitment.

But I’m not too worried because I don’t think it really matters: I don’t expect for a moment that anything in the Strategy for Sustainable Construction will actually slow down the pace of climate change.

We are seeing evidence all around us that the Government is powerless to make a difference. The public has seen through tax rises dressed up as ‘green’ measures and the Government (perhaps understandably) hasn’t the courage to deliver environmental actions that will actually make a difference.

With all this vacillation about whether to increase Vehicle Excise Duty on old cars with higher carbon emissions, how do we expect Government to manage the retro-fitting of the existing housing stock to release less carbon into the environment?

It will be too expensive to make a difference through incentivisation and imagine the riots that would follow any imposition of a ‘green poll tax’ on housing. Forcing homeowners to pay for more insulation, energy-efficient controls and so on is not a scenario that any Government will ever relish.

We should all stop waiting for Government to do things for us. We live in a carbon critical world and the answer to breaking our dependency on carbon lies in the hands of forward-thinking people and companies.

In terms of the built environment, it particularly lies in the minds of designers and the innovations of product manufacturers. These two groups can do more to alter climate change than any government can ever aspire to do.

World’s biggest issue

The evidence is plainly there, though it might take Bangladesh to be wiped off the map or even a big part of Norfolk to be lost under water to get climate change as everyone’s priority.

I’m certainly convinced that it is the biggest issue facing the world. There is no sense worrying about the pound in your pocket, conservation issues, competition or even terrorism if we are losing a battle to sustain life on the planet.

It is time for the professions to show leadership and commitment. Architects, engineers, surveyors, facilities managers and many others have the collective expertise, experience and brainpower to make real changes - to do things differently. Their institutions have huge global networks for professional disciplines which provide an easy route to worldwide influence.

These resources have to be mobilised - and quickly - so that architects, engineers and other professionals around the world can innovate, design and construct using carbon as the critical criterion in decision-making to guide us away from climate change catastrophe.

Graham Watts is the chief executive of the Construction Industry Council