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Public sector carbon emissions

Amendment to Government Bill will mean more energy efficient public buildings

On Tuesday 28 October Martin Caton, the MP for Gower, succeeded in amending the Government’s Climate Change Bill to ensure more rapid progress towards improving the energy efficiency of public buildings.  This followed intense negotiations over preceding weeks with Ministers from the new Department for Energy and Climate Change.

The original version of Martin Caton’s amendment would have required all newly procured central Government buildings to be in the top quartile of energy performance.  The Government have made this commitment no fewer than three times over recent years – but a host of official reports have shown progress to be dismal.  Indeed in recent weeks the Houses of Parliament were discovered to have the lowest possible energy efficiency rating – a G – while the newly refurbished Treasury HQ managed to score only an E.

Despite this, the Government were immovable in their opposition to the original Caton amendment.  Under threat of a Labour rebellion, however, they agreed to support the new amendment, which requires Government to lay before Parliament an annual report on “progress towards ensuring that any new buildings procured for the civil estate are in the upper quartile of energy performance”.

While falling short of an absolute duty to take action, it clearly amounts to an implied duty, which is valuable.  At ACE’s insistence, the Government also agreed to some additional wording, which means they must now state the reasons, in each case, why any newly procured building is not in the top quartile.  This will clearly be a driver for improved energy efficiency, as the Government will be keen to avoid the embarrassment of reporting poor performance year after year.

ACE will be closely monitoring Government performance over the coming years – and we hope and expect to see big improvements in the energy performance of public buildings.

The background behind the amendment:

Anne Snelgrove, the Labour MP for Swindon South, took up the Public Sector Buildings (Energy Performance) Bill in the Private Members’ Ballot last year.  The Bill gave statutory effect to the Government’s oft-repeated commitment that it would “procure only buildings in the top quartile of energy performance for the central Government estate”.  The need for the Bill was clear, as official reports had shown that 17 out of 21 Government departments were not on track to meet their energy efficiency targets, while energy efficiency across the central Government estate has actually worsened by 3.3% since 2000.

Sadly, the Bill’s passage through Parliament was blocked by the actions of one maverick MP.  Anne Snelgrove therefore decided to table the provisions of her Bill by means of an amendment to the Government’s Climate Change Bill.  In the recent Government reshuffle Anne accepted the post of Deputy to the South West Regional Minister, which meant that she was unable to table the amendment.  Both she and we were delighted when Martin Caton MP agreed to take the campaign forward on her behalf.

Why do we need this amendment?

Currently Government Departments are failing miserably on energy efficiency and 17 out of 21 Government departments are not on track to meet their energy efficiency targets. The public sector accounts for about 5% of the UK’s emissions and it is in a key position to lead on emissions reductions by setting a behavioural and strategic example to the private sector.

According to a recent National Audit Office report, Government is failing to meet the sustainability standards for the construction and refurbishment of buildings that it has set for the Government Estate.

Over the last four years, the Government has committed itself on several occasions to “procure only buildings in the top quartile of energy performance”. This amendment will give legal force to this commitment and ensure that real progress is made on delivering on it.

Strong Government leadership on the energy standards of the buildings it purchases, leases or procures will help it meet its own energy and carbon targets. To help the private sector to follow the Government’s lead and to deliver real cuts in carbon emissions it is important to stimulate demand for low carbon buildings. The Government is a key player in the commercial property market – by setting higher standards for the buildings it procures it will transform the if it sets higher standards for the buildings it leases this will have an effect on the wider property market.

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