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Environment Agency head backs broader Future Homes Standard

Emma Howard-Boyd hopes the issue of improved water efficiency will be considered as part of a broad cross sector approach to implement stricter low carbon standards in new homes by 2025

The chair of the Environment Agency hopes a ‘Future Homes Standard’ proposed by the UK government earlier this year will have a broader sustainability remit that requires improved water efficiency in new buildings among other commitments such as lower carbon heating.

Emma Howard-Boyd said “it would be great” if water efficiency and resilience to drought could be included in Chancellor Philip Hammond’s proposals to detail a minimum standard by 2025 for buildings that is intended to outline how UK can ensure world leading levels of energy efficiency.

Ms Howard-Boyd, who was reappointed to the agency’s chairperson role earlier this year, made the comments as headline speaker of the 35th annual lecture of the Worshipful Company of Plumbers held this week in London.

The lecture touched upon how the plumbing sector can work with the wider construction industry, the financial sector and government to address the impacts of more extreme climate on our buildings, such as in bracing for an increased number of heatwaves.

Ms Howard-Boyd also discussed growing awareness in government of the need for more drastic approaches to infrastructure planning and construction standards to mitigate against climate change that she argued will require new forms of forms of cross-sector collaboration.

She also called for a less restrictive environment in which to generate private sector investment for projects focused on ensuring buildings are more resilient to adverse climate conditions. This would be another major step to realising a low carbon economy in the UK, Ms Howard-Boyd argued.

The UK is set to later this year publish its first Green Finance Strategy that will detail efforts to try and increase investment in more sustainable, greener industries such as construction and building services.

The Environment Agency chair added that government had identified potential market failures concerning investment and funding as a significant barrier to meeting the aims of its 25-year Environment Plan.

The 25-year strategy is intended to set out aims for enforcing key environmental commitments outside of the EU including efforts to realise zero carbon building standards and approaches to low carbon heat.

Ms Howard-Boyd argued that the strategy and initiatives such as the Future Homes Standard, as well as work to try and alleviate the potential of drought and flooding, highlighted much wider awareness in Whitehall as a whole about preparing for adverse shifts in climate.

She said, “There is recognition of a changing climate beyond those departments that normally deal with environmental issues and climate change. That is where I am seeing greater focus across government and also into the business and finance sectors as well.

’Climate emergency’

Ms Howard-Boyd cited the recent decision by the Guardian newspaper to set out new guidance for its journalists on covering and writing about global warming.

This advice included no longer use the term climate change, but rather ‘climate crisis’ or ‘climate emergency’ to reflect growing concern about the scientific evidence regarding adverse conditions that are already being experienced around the world.

She said, “We can still fix this. And I hope that collaboration and discussion between organisations such as the Environment Agency and the Worshipful Company of Plumbers can unlock new ways to do that.”

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