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Sandra Fives

Co-founder and CEO, Urbanomy

Urban planners and property developers should embed carbon neutrality at the heart of their property portfolios and projects to fulfil UK net zero ambitions.

By 2050, urban areas will account for just 2% of the earth’s surface. Yet these same areas will be responsible for a staggering 80% of global energy consumption and an alarming 90% of global CO2 emissions.

There is an answer to this worrying problem, says Sandra Fives, Co-founder and CEO of urban and energy planning consultancy, Urbanomy, a spinoff of EDF, incubated by EDF Pulse Croissance. “Cities need to become carbon neutral,” she insists. “But to do that we’re going to have to rethink the way they are built, refurbished and managed.”

What net zero really means

Achieving carbon neutrality for the UK’s urban areas may require investment in new systems and infrastructure. It will definitely demand full-throated backing from government and politicians — and, crucially, it needs public buy-in, too.

“That’s why there must be good communication around this topic, so that people really understand what net zero entails and how they can contribute to making it happen. We had led a survey “Reach Net Zero at individual scale” across 10 cities in the UK, that really highlighted the link between education on this topic and willingness to act for change” says Fives.

“Plus, we need to see a big change in the way we consume energy, but we also need to change the energy sources we use. Thankfully we are seeing a shift from gas to electricity, and that will help cities emit less carbon through decarbonised energy systems.”

Employing an integrated vision

Fives stresses that if sustainability and carbon neutrality are to work effectively in future schemes, urban planners must employ “an integrated vision” from the drawing board stage.

We need to see a big change in the way we consume energy, but we also need to change the energy sources we use.

For example, Urbanomy is involved in developing one of the UK’s new garden villages, Salt Cross Garden Village, in Oxfordshire. In these villages energy systems, quality of life, environment and mobility shouldn’t be seen as separate entities. “They are all linked and all have an impact on each other,” says Fives. “There’s no point in saying a year down the line: ‘Now we need electric vehicles charging points and charging infrastructure.’ It’s way smarter to think about everything at the beginning. It will also cost less.”

Fives hopes that by hosting the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow in November, attention will shift to what the UK is doing in this area. Urbanomy will keep on contributing to this objective, through projects with developers and local authorities, to co-create positive futures to live in.

Survey results “Reach Net Zero at individual scale

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