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Should you declare a climate emergency?

Declaring a climate emergency is a growing trend across all levels of the public sector, driven by increased concerns about the impact of climate change.

Declaring a climate emergency is a growing trend across all levels of the public sector, driven by increased concerns about the impact of climate change.

For social housing providers, as the local authorities and organisations they work alongside put forward their own declarations announcing decisive action on their sustainability and carbon emissions, expectations mount for them to do the same.

However, many are left unsure as to what declaring a ‘climate emergency’ truly means, particularly the specific actions they should take both before and after declaring. Here, we attempt to demystify the process.

Pressure to declare

The UK became the first major world economy to declare a national climate emergency in May 2019, obliging the country as a whole to legally-binding carbon reduction targets. Since then, they have been joined by the Republic of Ireland, Portugal, Canada, France, Argentina, Spain, Austria and Bangladesh.

At regional level, during late 2018 and 2019 local authorities representing more than half of Britain’s population took the major step of declaring a ‘climate emergency’, according to figures from the UK Climate Emergency Network.

Quite what declaring a climate emergency means varies from organisation to organisation, however, the general objective is to put in place a self-appointed deadline to reach a certain degree of decarbonisation.

Increasingly, the most common aim is to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 or even 2030. Deciding on the right approach to addressing the wider climate emergency is something of a balancing act, requiring ambitious targets that satisfy the expectations of various stakeholders while remaining realistic and achievable.

Declaring an emergency

While there are no specific regulations, declaring a climate emergency, in reality, can bring with it significant financial and procedural obligations, binding your organisation into stringent new carbon reduction targets.

Depending on the scope and ambition of your declaration, this could be for the next decade or, more practically, the next 30 years. Effectively, it communicates a shift in focus, across the entire organisation towards reducing their carbon footprint.

The first step, simply, is to put out a decisive communication to key stakeholders, including residents, suppliers, staff and partners that your organisation has made the decision to declare a climate emergency.

From there, you will need to quickly establish what that actually means. This involves laying out concrete carbon-reduction targets, deadlines and a practical plan for achieving them.

It also means assessing short-term objectives and the impact they will deliver, as well as outlining a long-term pathway towards achieving identified carbon reduction targets. Whether you are best to do conduct this process before or after the declaration itself is a matter of some debate.

Some organisations declare their ambitions first and then set about establishing a plan for achieving them, while others prefer to spend time ensuring that targets are practical and financially viable before taking the plunge.

While the latter may be more prudent, it is a lengthy process at a time where there is mounting pressure for organisations to take decisive action.

Starting out

The scale of the challenge behind declaring a climate emergency means that it can sometimes be difficult to know where to start.  For some housing providers that are effectively starting from scratch, there are some simple steps that you can take to jump-start your drive towards dramatic carbon reductions.

Even if your organisation has already embraced a sustainability strategy or even announced a climate emergency, these steps may help.

  • Half-hourly meters may seem an obscure place to start, but this enables access to accurate data and consumption analysis, allowing for effective benchmarking that provides a measure than can be gauged against best practice and shaped into an effective sustainability plan. With official targets for the rollout of smart meters now pushed back yet further to 2024, an important first step is to ensure that half-hourly metering is in place by liaising with you energy supplier.
  • Genuine green energy procurement deals are increasingly approaching price parity with other sources of generation, allowing you to ensure the energy your organisation purchases from the grid comes from 100% renewable sources at only a marginal price increase. Beware of green-washed energy.
  • Community heating and generation projects, such as heat pumps and solar PV, are well-suited to housing developments, offering the potential to drastically reduce net carbon emissions as well as reducing energy bills for residents
  • Similarly, a wide range of energy efficiency measures are available that offer housing providers the opportunity to reduce their own energy costs and carbon footprint, along with providing residents with financial benefits and a more efficient home. Assessing the current state of housing stock and the impact of various options effectively ensures the best return on investment, both in terms of cost savings and carbon reduction
  • Engaging with residents will play a vital role in achieving these ambitions. Many residents are increasingly receptive towards carbon-reducing measures, but communicating wider objectives and benefits effectively is key, particularly energy efficiency measures and on-site generation that offers reduced fuel poverty, lower energy bills or service charges

Developing an effective strategy can take several years, even working with an experienced partner. However, the effectiveness of early measures can generate a positive snowball effect, with initial savings able to be reinvested into further efficiencies. That, in turn, provides the opportunity to fund new measures.

Establishing an effective strategy using a wide-ranging, holistic approach is critical to achieving these targets, as well as understanding consumption trends and what processes will most effectively cut down on emissions and wasted energy.

To find out the best next steps for your organisation to take, talk to Inenco’s specialist housing team on 08451 46 36 26.