Last month I had the pleasure of attending the Chartered Institute of Housing, Housing 2021 conference in Manchester. Alongside our client, Ocean Media Group we hosted the Unlock Net Zero stage, three days of panel discussions, presentations, and TED talks on what we need to consider and focus on to make the transition to a new low carbon future, a practical reality.
We had over 2000 visitors to the stage and whilst the topic of discussion naturally focused on the effect of the transition on the housing sector, there are some key themes which I think are very prevalent for how we need to approach what will be the biggest challenge our generation faces – the move to a lower (and hopefully zero) carbon world.
We cannot fool ourselves. The challenge is huge. No one government, no one organisation, no one technology can deliver decarbonisation alone. We simply all need to work together. That was probably the clearest theme that came across during all three days of discussions.
Collaboration is key to delivering this change. Participants acknowledged that there are no prizes for finishing first, but we will all face the consequences if we do not reduce the level of carbon emissions entering the atmosphere.
With collaboration being a clear call to arms, what other themes emerged?
Education. This was quite an interesting one for me as a communicator. It seems clear that not everyone knows exactly what is meant by the term net zero, and that there are different variations on the definition of net zero. This produces an interesting challenge. If our definitions are all slightly different do, we risk not all focusing in the right way to deliver and implement the solutions needed to not only decarbonise heat in our existing and new housing stock but also adapt our own behaviour to deliver decarbonisation?
We should learn by doing. One contributor to a session I chaired was very clear on this. This has not been done before, so we must learn by doing. Learn what works and enhance, learn what doesn’t work and adapt. The urgency of the challenge means that we do not have the luxury of waiting for perfect solutions. Whilst 2050 is the end target for net zero, the bulk of our emissions reductions (78%) are required by 2035, so we have no time to waste. Those last 15 years to 2050 will be needed to tackle the very hard to decarbonise sectors such as large-scale transport – aviation and marine, so it is essential that we focus on what we can change now. Most of the technologies to deliver net zero are known. We need to focus on the development, commercialisation and integration of known but currently underdeveloped technologies.
Skills is going to become a big topic. New skills will be required to implement the solutions that are designed. The architect, builder, electrician, engineer and plumber of tomorrow will need new knowledge and skills. We can’t overlook this as we seek to transition. The focus needs to be as much on the human element as it is on the technology innovation.
Finally underlining this was the question of who pays for all of this? Again, it points to a collaboration of public and private finance. Most modelling work on the pathways to net zero, suggests that the element of public funding made available will be multiplied by a factor of three or more. Decarbonisation does not come cheap, but then neither does the bill to repair a damaged planet.
Reassuringly though, everyone agreed this must be a “just” transition. One that works for all and does not favour only those who can afford to make changes. Linking to the point of collaboration this shows that we need to focus on working together to make this happen. We have accepted that we want to live in a net zero future, we now must focus on the practical reality.
The debate will continue.
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