This article was originally written for National Housing Federation to promote their board excellence conference:
The latest UK statistics show that we emit over 350 million tonnes CO2 per year. That’s a very big number, but what does it mean?
To relay the importance of this figure, I’m going to relate it to something that hopefully matters to all of us – our long-term wellbeing.
The well-known, and arguably proven, Maslow hierarchy of human needs is an excellent framework for thinking about wellbeing (look it up if you are not familiar, it’s inspirational). According to this hierarchy, one of our essential needs is ‘security’, which we can interpret as security of supply of our basic needs, like water, food, shelter and air. This is where environmental protection comes in.
You may think that, as we’re lucky enough to live in a highly developed country, our supply of these basics is already secure. Well, let’s look at some statistics and see how climate change relates to them.
Let’s start with shelter, because that’s our sector’s main business. Last year, floods devastated Doncaster. Met Office central projections, based on medium CO2 emissions rate scenarios, predict that we can expect a 10-20% increase in annual precipitation rates over the next decade. This means rainfall intensity and the likelihood of flooding will increase.
The Met Office also projects a 2°C increase in average summer temperatures. At first glance, this sounds nice, but overheating in homes is an increasing problem, especially for vulnerable people.
Remember, these are central CO2 emissions projections, so the reality could be far worse, which means our homes are far from secure.
Next, let’s look at water security. A while ago, the Environment Agency did an excellent study which found that climate change will reduce the amount of annual rainfall in the UK. So even though rainfall intensity will increase and cause flooding during individual rain events, the total amount of water will be reduced. Climate change coupled with expected population increase led the Environment Agency to conclude that we need a domestic water efficiency of 130 litres per person per day. Average domestic water usage is currently 140 litres per person per day, so we’re a way off being 100% water secure at the minute.
I shall now coin the phrase ‘air security’ to fit in with my theme. Over that last year in the UK, the air quality has only met World Health Organisation safe levels for 328 days. This is according to Defra air quality monitoring measured in DAQI’s. This means our air security is only 90%. Whilst not directly related to climate change, there is an indirect connection. A lot of the pollutants that cause poor air quality come from burning the same fossil fuels that cause climate change. These are fuels such as gas for heating our homes and offices as well as diesel for our maintenance vans.
Finally, let’s talk about food security. Each year, The Economist collates global food security statistics, which are based on good quality sources. The UK food security score is currently 71.9%. This sounds quite a high score, and it is indeed better than a lot of countries. But if you reframe it, you could be telling your children which day in the week they won’t be eating. Clearly, we’ll need 100% food security for our long-term wellbeing. And a big chunk of why it’s not 100% right now is climate change affecting crop yields and transportation. Other factors are socio-economic related.
This all sounds very doom and gloom but there are reasons for hope. Reducing our CO2 emissions is very feasible but will take focus and planning. We are an ingenious species and we can reduce our emissions to safe levels. This will help secure our basic needs and enable us to maximise wellbeing for ourselves and the people we care for.
How to react
Relying on business as usual will not be enough. What associations need to do next is make plans for deep retrofit and A-rated new build. Doing this cost effectively will involve a) trialling new technologies and emerging finance mechanisms over the next few years b) use trial results to upgrade entire stock over the next 30 year and c) lobbying on policy barriers that are blocking progress.