From 2016 all newly built homes will have to comply with the Zero Carbon Buildings Regulations as part of the national effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by the year 2050. It’s a tough challenge, and aside from the use of low carbon construction materials and renewable sources of energy there is provision to meet up to 30% of the development’s carbon footprint through off site “Allowable Solutions”.
Our homes account for around 25% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. Eighty percent of them will still be in use by 2050 so retrofitting energy efficient measures in the existing building stock is vital if the required depth of carbon emissions cuts is to be met. This includes insulation, reglazing, LED street lighting and district heating systems, to name a few. These measures vary in their costs and difficulty to implement. We can expect the low hanging fruit to go first, but this reveals a problem: additionality. Many of the retrofit measures are ultimately cost saving – why else bother to insulate a building beyond what’s required to stay warm? So there should be some level of recognition that many of the proposed measures would almost certainly happen anyway, if only for economic reasons.
‘Additionality’ is a familiar concept to anyone who has more than a passing acquaintance with the Woodland Carbon Code. It boils down to demonstrating that the action – here, woodland creation – is only able to happen because of the availability of finance made possible by the sale of the carbon “rights”. It can be a tricky one to prove and rightly so, because anyone buying the carbon needs to know they are making the difference to their own emissions footprint.
So here’s a proposal. Let’s make woodland creation an Allowable Solution. The Woodland Carbon Code already has a formal registry to track projects and transfer of carbon ownership, and requires the continual monitoring and certification of carbon stocks. Investing in woodland creation would certainly clear the additionality hurdle for the Zero Carbon Buildings regs and at the same time provide real impetus for the woodland carbon market. As an option by which a developer could obtain planning consent it’s certainly straightforward.
Of course woodland meets lots of other objectives for planners, such as providing people with green space to enjoy. This should make it an attractive option as one of a range of measures that developers can use to meet their obligations.
There is a downside. Linking woodland creation and development is potentially a dangerous thing to do as some might see it as a “licence to trash” the natural environment. There’s a similar caution about biodiversity offsetting, and we’ll have something to say about that too this week.
But first things first. There is a public consultation underway about the nature of Allowable Solutions and you can help make the case for woodland by taking part. Question 14 in Chapter 4 is the crucial one – it’s about not restricting options to the built environment, woodland creation could be a positive measure to use outside the built environment – but don’t stop there!
This is one of those all too rare cases where the seemingly relentless force of development can be channelled into creating a more resilient, greener landscape. It is emphatically not about enabling the loss of woodland habitat in return for “compensation” elsewhere. Rather, it’s a cost-effective, multi-benefit solution to a difficult problem, that of how we create a low carbon, liveable future.
Nick Atkinson, Carbon Leader