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UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy


Applied in Focus. Global in Reach


Proposal for a ‘Net Zero What Works Centre’

By Siobhan Pipa, on 29 October 2021

From Professor Jeremy Watson CBE FREng

The legal requirement for the UK to achieve Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 presents society with a wide-ranging and demanding set of challenges whose solutions require holistic and cohesive systems thinking across all sectors of activity. Social, technical, political and policy considerations must be taken together and solutions evolved that are driven by need, and which are applicable and acceptable for the whole of UK society. The November 2021 COP 26 meeting to be hosted by the UK, throws all this into sharp focus and suggests that government will wish to clearly demonstrate methods and pathways by which the 2050 objectives can be achieved. A Net Zero What Works Centre (NZWWC) may be an innovative and effective approach to accelerating and focusing coherent action.

Photo by Thomas Richter on Unsplash

Proposal for a Net Zero What Works Centre: Professor Jeremy Watson CBE FREng

A gap is perceived in the ‘operating space’ between high-level strategic bodies, such as the Committee for Climate Change and the Academies, and practice-level organisations like local authorities and industry associations. There is an evidenced, user-articulated need to provide interpretation between strategic goals and the socio-technical options available to society.

The sectors of the economy that must be engaged include; buildings (construction), transport, industry (manufacturing and process), utilities (particularly energy, including primary supply[1]), service industries (office, retail and finance) and agriculture. By viewing these through a wide-angle, systems-orientated and socio-technical lens, and not via ‘stove pipes’, it should be possible to see where solutions in one sector can be applied in another, and where there are key sectoral interdependencies. This will enable the achievement of the maximum economic benefits of scale and standardisation while minimising unintended consequences. Moreover, outcomes should be of benefit to UK GDP if exported as products and services, and deployed in a global marketplace.

Strong and sharp focus is required to ensure the agenda for action addresses the disparate needs of recipients and beneficiaries of Centre outputs while identifying requirements that are generic and can be efficiently addressed together. Needs for policy advice are coming from central and local government; industry associations and procurers want best practice guides, and technicians and installers need practice notes.

I have formed a Scoping Committee and we have so far convened two workshops, on GHG reduction from buildings, and on Energy Intensive Industries. We have excellent support from AIRTO and from two government CSAs amongst others.

Please comment if you are interested in helping with this – particularly from the business and local authority communities.

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