Downing Street slammed for 'embarrassing' CO2 emissions in year of COP26 presidency
Despite the fact that improving energy efficiency was a key aim of the climate change summit hosted by the UK Government, and an integral part of Britain’s long-term energy security strategy, it has done little to address the poor record of one of its most famous properties since the showpiece gathering in November last year.
The building, which takes in Prime Minister Liz Truss’s official residence and offices, has seen its display energy certificate operational rating fall from an E last year to an F – the second lowest possible band.
It is one of at least three prominent UK Government department headquarters that have seen their energy efficiency rating downgraded since the UK hosted the United Nations COP26 summit in Glasgow.
Opposition parties said the emissions data was an “embarrassing failure” that showed how the Conservatives were “damaging efforts” to solve the climate crisis instead of taking responsibility.
However, the UK Government said it had halved emissions across its estate relative to 2010 levels.
The ratings system, which measures a building’s actual energy consumption over a 12-month period, has a sliding scale of A to G, with the most efficient buildings scoring no more than 25. Downing Street’s score was 150, well above the typical score of 100 for a public building.
Whereas 10 to 12 Downing Street was found to have been emitting around 724 tonnes of CO2 per year at the time of its last inspection in June 2021, that total has jumped this year to 768 tonnes.
The increase has been driven by a spike in heating-related emissions, which have gone up from 174 to 226 tonnes – a near 30 per cent year-on-year increase.
Assessors from the firm, Mitie, who carried out an inspection of the building, issued no less than 14 recommendations for improvements to reduce its carbon emissions.
They include the installation of building mounted photovoltaic electricity generating panels, and the replacement of ageing modular boilers with an air-source heat pump. As things stand, Downing Street does not generate any energy from renewable sources.
Downing Street previously maintained a webpage detailing a record of initiatives to reduce its energy consumption, but it was withdrawn in January. An advisory note on the site states: “This page is being reviewed.”
It is understood the Government is confident that Downing Street’s rating will improve in 2023 thanks to new measures, including energy efficient lighting, which complement other eco-friendly initiatives, such as a full rainwater harvesting system for its gardens, and low-energy and motion detecting lighting throughout.
The UK Government has committed to reducing emissions across public sector buildings by 75 per cent by 2037. Less than two weeks ago, it announced a funding pot of up to £1.5 billion to improve energy efficiency across social housing and low-income properties across England.
The money is designed to help install the likes of heat pumps and solar panels, as well insulation, to improve a building’s energy performance.
At the time, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the business and energy secretary, said: “By making homes warmer and cheaper to live in, we are not only transforming the lives of households across England, we are creating huge growth in the economy.”
However, his own department is hardly setting a good example. The latest DEC records show the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) headquarters is rated E, with a below average score of 101. Only last year, it had a DEC rating of C.
The records show that annual CO2 emissions at the BEIS building in London’s Victoria Street increased from 2,108 to 2,946 tonnes over the same period – a spike of almost 40 per cent.
Assessors who inspected the BEIS headquarters made 18 efficiency improvement recommendations, including the use of biomass boilers.
It is not the only prominent Government department building to see its energy efficiency rating worsen during the year of the UK’s COP26 presidency.
The headquarters of the Home Office in London’s Marsham Street has also been downgraded from a D to an E, with its annual CO2 emissions increasing from 5,752 to 6,311 tonnes. Like Downing Street and the BEIS headquarters, none of its energy comes from renewables.
The same is true of the main building of the Department for Work and Pensions on London’s Tothill Street. It has the lowest DEC rating of G, with CO2 emissions increasing from 2,658 to 2,796 tonnes.
The Scotland Office at Dover House in Whitehall, rated B for the past two years, saw its emissions go up slightly from 87 tCO2 per year to 100 tCO2
The Department of Health and Social Care HQ in London’s Victoria Street has seen its DEC rating gradually decline in recent years. It was scored D in 2018, before falling to E in 2019. It is currently graded F.
Deidre Brock MP, the SNP’s COP26 spokeswoman, said: “In light of the Tories’ recent energy efficiency commitments, it really is an embarrassing failure that several of the Government's own departmental headquarters have had their energy certificate ratings downgraded.
“It is, however, consistent with the Tories' faltering record on climate issues. Far from taking their presidency of COP seriously, this Government is actually damaging efforts to solve the climate crisis. Recent proposals to slash environmental regulations in place to help reach net-zero targets show a total disregard for the existential threat we collectively face."
She added: “This Government needs to use the COP presidency to lead by example and this includes addressing the irresponsible rise in emissions in its own estate.”
Mark Ruskell MSP, climate spokesman for the Scottish Greens, said: “We all have a role to play in reducing emissions and building a better and cleaner environment. All Government departments should be leading by example and making the kind of changes that they are rightly asking for from others.
“These backward steps feel symbolic of a Government that still has a long way to go in terms of how seriously it takes the climate crisis.
“These kinds of small changes are important, but they are also no substitute for the national and international climate action that is needed. The Government's failure on that front is far more concerning.”
A spokesman for the UK Government said: “Despite the challenges associated with modernising often historic buildings, we have seen a halving of emissions across the government estate relative to 2010 levels.
“We are continuing to make the most energy-efficient and cost-effective use of government property, with measures like new lighting sensors, LED lighting, intelligent building management software and reducing water use."
Since Ms Truss succeeded Boris Johnson as prime minister last month, there have been growing concerns about her commitment to the UK’s climate change ambitions.
While she has said she supports the target of meeting net zero by 2050, she has alarmed environmental groups by offering more than 100 new licences for oil and gas extraction in the North Sea, and lifting the ban on fracking in England.
Only last week, Egypt, which is hosting this autumn’s COP27 climate summit, warned the UK not to “backtrack” on the global climate agenda.
The abrupt diplomatic intervention saw the African nation express disappointment with the news that King Charles would not be attending the event, given his presence would have been “of great added value to the visibility of climate action at this critical moment.”
The Egyptian team added: “We hope this doesn't indicate that the UK is backtracking from the global climate agenda after presiding over COP26.”
The intervention followed reports Ms Truss told the new King, who gave a speech at the Glasgow gathering, not to attend this time around.
Buckingham Palace has confirmed the King will not be at COP27, and said the decision had been made "with mutual friendship and respect" after the monarch sought the prime minister's advice.
But the UK’s COP26 president, Alok Sharma, said he wanted the King to be part of the delegation at Egypt, describing him as a “huge global champion of the environment and tackling climate change long before it was a mainstream issue”.
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