10,500 days and counting – there’s no sugar coating the prescription for carbon neutrality
The clock is ticking, and it’s now just over 10,500 days until 2050 – the date when the UK and over 110 other countries around the world have committed to a legally binding agreement on Net Zero carbon emissions.
The scale of this global challenge is immense and remember that the prize for these herculean efforts is limiting the warming of the planet by 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial period. So we’re talking about slowing the trajectory of the warming that we’ve already caused, not reversing the damaging impacts of unchecked temperature rises of 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade resulting in 20 of the 22 hottest days on record occurring in the last 20 years.
The impact on sectors varies enormously, so the scale of the challenge for the commercial office sector is greater than that of agriculture, but is significantly less than that of the healthcare sector, which alone currently accounts for 4.5 percent of UK carbon emissions each year. Research from our pioneering Sustainable Buildings Monitor survey – due for publication in May, shows that our current healthcare estate of circa 28,000 properties (England and Wales) uses 617 kWH/m2 of energy – the overwhelming majority of this total (92 percent) within hospital settings. This total needs to fall by about 80 percent to achieve Net Zero.
Recognising the importance of its impact on the UK’s climate commitment, the NHS has already defined a pathway to Net Zero, which it acknowledges will not be easy and will require significant investment and ambition to achieve. The government’s commitment to build 40 new hospitals by 2030 will certainly play a role in narrowing this carbon gap if procurement focuses on Net Zero as a primary driver; however the biggest challenge is inevitably the legacy healthcare estate – and remember the much repeated statistic that 80 percent of buildings in 2050 currently exist today.
The Playbook may well prove a radical step for many, but we need to push further and faster to achieve the efficiency gains that we need for 2050. Technology will certainly play a role over the next 10,500 days, but actually it’s processes, the right forms of contract and quality controls that will prove instrumental.
We will need to design and construct differently – making greater use of Building Information Modelling (BIM) and a Platform approach for Design for Manufacturing and Assembly and Disassembly (P-DfMA+D). Procuring with whole life costs in mind, designing for deconstruction and recovery through nature-based construction solutions and maximising social value outcomes, will all drive the correct behaviours that will normalise our pathway to Net Zero.
COVID-19 has demonstrated how quickly the world can respond to a crisis situation. The impacts of climate change are no longer subtle and isolated, but increasingly self-evident and devastating to a larger proportion of our population with every day and year that passes. We can imagine that new technologies and clean energy sources may be developed to come to our rescue, but the climate commitments made by over 100 of our largest carbon contributors are based in the here and now.
The healthcare estate is not unique in the significant challenges it faces to decarbonise its operations, especially at a time when we have prioritised even more immediate emergencies. But as the countdown continues, it is incumbent on us all to think and act differently on the investment, procurement, construction and operation of our health assets. Lifetime care isn’t just for people, but for our buildings, our planet and the very survival of every living thing that exists on it.
To find out more on Debbie's thoughts, watch her virtual presentation at the recent leading tech and health event, WIRED Health. Debbie rubbed shoulders with key speakers from the likes of PIXAR, Harvard University and the University of Cambridge to explore and map the future of health.