﻿Legislating for zero carbon
Copenhagen was disappointing on a number of fronts. How useful or practical can a non-binding accord ever be? Politics usually gets caught between long-term goals and short-term vested interests, which makes securing consensus almost impossible on a global scale.
So is that it, then? Do we have to forget about political instruments? No, because at a local level in many other countries there are already binding domestic measures in place that can take us a long way down the road towards a low-carbon built environment. The politicians who struggled and failed in Demark could do a lot worse than focus on the legally enforceable mechanisms they already have in their individual countries. In the UK, there is no need for more legislation and red tape, but what we have must be enforced if it is to work.
Part L of the Building Regulations is a case in point, as it has been structured with the aim of plotting the course towards zero-carbon homes by 2016 and other buildings by 2019. Contractors were encouraged to join competent-person schemes to provide self-certification under Part L. However, without enforcement, this push for improved professional standards is being undermined, and there have been no prosecutions for failing to comply.
In 2010, the new version of Part L will impose a further 25% improvement in energy efficiency. Local authorities really must get to grips with this issue and ensure all work — particularly in existing buildings, where we must make urgent progress — complies. We should aim much higher than the basic targets for energy efficiency set down in Part L, but it is legally enforceable and so has a vital role to play in driving up professional standards.
Similarly, the F-Gas Regulation, which was finally enacted in the UK last year, requires any firms working with refrigerant gases to hold appropriate safe-handling qualifications and to monitor refrigerant leakage. This urgently needs proactive enforcement to ensure responsible firms that have invested in their skills and management systems to ensure they comply do not lose out to ‘rogue traders’ who have not. It will probably take a ‘test’ prosecution to get people to take this law seriously.
Alongside F-Gas we have the mandatory air-conditioning inspections, which were imposed under the EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) and brought into force in 2009 — but which are largely being ignored. All systems with cooling capacities over 250 kW were due to have been inspected by 6 January 2009, but CIBSE estimated that fewer than 2% of the 50 000 installed systems were compliant one year later. By 2011 all systems of 12 kW and above must also have been inspected.
However, inspections are not just about meeting legislative requirements, they are also practical exercises in helping end users to improve the performance of their equipment — but this means they must be carried out by properly qualified engineers, who can give useful advice and, if required, carry out improvements.
With the EPBD being recast at the end of 2010, this exercise is expected to be extended to commercial boiler plant as well. If these measures are not proactively promoted and enforced, clients will not bother to comply — particularly if they do not see any value in the advice being offered. This responsibility falls on trading-standards officers, but it is questionable whether they have the depth of specialist understanding required.
Trading-standards officers are also responsible for Energy Performance Certificates and Display Energy Certificates — also imposed as part of the EPBD. All buildings now require an EPC on construction, sale or rent, and all buildings accessed by the public with a useful floor area of over 1000 m2 must have a DEC prominently displayed.
Many buildings do comply with this legislation — not all — but there is great concern about the quality of the EPCs being produced as they are not being created by qualified engineers, and the main motivation seems to be to tick the relevant boxes as cheaply as possible.
The recast EPBD is expected to remove the floor-area restriction for DECs, and we can eventually expect to see DECs required for all buildings. This will represent real progress, as DECs are a much more useful tool than EPCs because they record actual energy consumption and must be renewed every year. This is such an important issue, but it remains to be seen if Trading Standards can step up to the mark.
Running throughout this whole legislative framework are the issues of skills, raising professional standards and the need to legislate ‘rogue traders’ out of our industry. This is a proverbial window of opportunity to tackle both environmental and commercial issues that are critical to the future of our industry.
Legislation is, however, only fair and of value if it is applied to everyone. If, as a nation, we are committed to carbon reduction, both for environmental and security of supply reasons, we should not be leaving it to building owners’ corporate social responsibilities (CSR) to deliver change.