We must act quickly to avoid green assets being ‘overlooked’ on the journey to net zero
As the UK readies itself for COP26, Sam Jones, Housing Lead at Ground Control discusses the complexities facing social landlords as they grapple to balance carbon reduction and nature’s recovery.
The protection and restoration of nature is one of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s focus points for the UK COP26 Presidency. When the conference kicks off in Glasgow on 31 October, it is expected he’ll outline the action needed to leave nature in a better state for the next generation, combining ambitious targets to reduce the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions with bold tree-planting targets.
Over a 5-year period, from 2033 to 2037, the UK government intends to limit the volume of greenhouse gases emitted, taking the country more than three-quarters of the way to reaching net zero by 2050. Heat from buildings accounts for around 15% of the UK’s greenhouse gases and the decarbonisation of social housing therefore has a large part to play in achieving net zero.
However, as the Prime Minister has recognised, decarbonisation will not be enough. The protection and restoration of nature – to prevent further loss of biodiversity and wildlife – is implicitly interconnected.
Woodlands, community parklands, and urban green spaces are not only vital to the health and happiness of residents, they’re also a powerful weapon in the fight against global warming. Each pocket of green space has the potential to produce oxygen that we breathe, to act as a carbon sink (preventing the release of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere), and to boost biodiversity and wildlife rejuvenation.
Nationally and regionally, it seems that green placemaking is having a revival and government’s thinking is beginning to reflect this, too. Recent assurances from the Rt Hon Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities that his department will empower local government allowing communities to create greener and more beautiful places to live is a step in the right direction.
But what hasn’t yet been established is a joined-up approach to achieving net zero, which links the levelling up agenda to the decarbonisation targets set for lower income households.
When the need to decarbonise housing stock at a pace suitable for the wider net zero emission target is so great, there is a real danger that green placemaking will be relegated to a “nice to have” rather than an essential aspect of the social housing sector’s net zero strategy.
At Ground Control we’re determined to prevent this – and so are the social landlords, environmentalists, and civic leaders we listened to earlier this year when we laid the groundwork for the Green Communities summit. They told us that rather than being just ‘nice to have’, green placemaking and green assets are a vital part of creating and maintaining environmentally sustainable places in existing and new build developments.
Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England also agrees. Speaking at Ground Control’s recent Green Gains Live summit he talked about a turning point for the recovery of nature. “Until now the degradation of the natural environment has been in the shadows of carbon reduction.”
“However, the reality is that we can now see the restoration of nature has to be completely integrated. It’s not just an environmental issue, it’s a social one too. Indeed, at a county level we must invest in the recovery of the natural environment, to work out where the good remaining habitats are, but crucially we must cooperate to create and reconnect new ones. We need to find synergies between landowners, and to use these huge areas of land to enable nature’s recovery.”
Ahead of COP 26, and as the UK’s social housing sector accelerates decarbonisation, it is vital that we continue to explore and expand this holistic view. Ensuring that we consider the wealth of green assets available to social landlords across the UK, the role of green space stewardship, and the distinct needs of local communities.