Measuring the carbon emissions intensity of the avant-garde

Marios Kagarlis
Marios Kagarlis March 31, 2021
The government has legislated for the UK to become net zero in terms of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. As housing is estimated to contribute at least one fifth of the total CO2 emissions nationally, there is no way of getting to net zero without tackling housing emissions intensity. In this blog we discuss how to monitor decarbonisation on an aggregate level.

When thinking about housing emissions, it becomes apparent that if we don’t measure how much progress we are collectively making in decarbonizing the housing stock, we have no idea if we are on track to become net zero in terms of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or not. This inspired us to create the first index measuring the carbon emissions intensity of the avant-garde, or 15% least polluting housing stock.

At the present early phase of decarbonisation for housing, the focus is on motivating and rewarding early adoption. This has been the driver of the 15% standard, which was promoted on the anticipation that encouraging a linear model of decarbonisation will accelerate progress. Currently this level of performance is broadly thought to represent the threshold for alignment of housing assets with the Paris Climate Agreement.

National House Emissions Indices for E&W

* Index represents the Paris-alignment threshold for carbon dioxide mass equivalent operating emissions per square meter per year (kgCO2e / m2 / year)

In some jurisdictions, as in the UK, there is greater emphasis on emissions intensity while in others, as in the EU, on energy intensity. To help track decarbonisation progress and navigate forthcoming mandatory climate-related disclosure standards (which incorporate both approaches) we introduce energy and emissions intensity indices for housing, for every level of geographical granularity (including bespoke on demand), starting with England and Wales.

Explore our regional indices below and local area league table here to see where progress is being made, and how far we collectively have to go.

Regional House Emissions Indices for England

* Index represents the Paris-alignment threshold for carbon dioxide mass equivalent operating emissions per square meter per year (kgCO2e / m2 / year)

Our indices show decarbonisation is overall progressing, but with significant geographical variance and for the time being at a modest pace. That the picture is disparate across England and Wales should not be surprising intuitively as the housing system is not uniform but rather adapted to local conditions. The diversity increases with granularity and becomes most pronounced across the multitude of district-level indices that we also produce at district level (available for subscription and shown for single point in time here). More formally, large variability is a hallmark of systems found to exhibit heavy-tailed distributions as housing does (see our blog for a discussion of the implications of this). Moreover, change in such systems is slow to pick up but ultimately breaks out in avalanches, rather than evolving as a linear progression.

Our indices are a reflection on where the best performance is, a target for other properties to meet. They also highlight the importance of working with local data. Previously, it was common practice to measure a home's emissions performance relative to the national housing stock. Yet a home that performs well against a national benchmark can be significantly underperforming at a local level. Our indices show that a home meeting the bar for alignment with the Paris Agreement at national level might only just make the top 50% of housing stock in some local districts.

"Decarbonisation is overall progressing, but with significant geographical variance and for the time being at a modest pace." - Marios Kagarlis, Climate Benchmark

In the intervening three decades to 2050 a lot that is barely imaginable is yet to come, from new technologies and better data, to ever escalating manifestations of climate change and advancements in climate science. Progress along the decarbonisation trajectory is therefore subject to uncertainty, and the roadmap to zero emissions will need continuous readjustment as we absorb new evidence to ensure that we stay on track.

We’re working on other measures for reflecting further aspects of housing decarbonisation aimed to reveal novel insights, as part of our active research program and will integrate its findings towards a comprehensive suite for decarbonisation stakeholders, including housing emissions management, portfolio optimisation and policymaking support tools. We’ll be contributing to the continuous readjustment of the decarbonisation roadmap that we expect to be an ongoing process as new evidence comes to light, in the long journey to zero emissions. Stay tuned.



The Bottom Line

Climate Benchmark indices and data science tools enable businesses to measure the performance of housing portfolios relative to local housing stock.

  • If we don’t measure how much progress we are collectively making in decarbonizing the housing stock, we have no idea if we are on track to become net zero.
  • Decarbonisation is overall progressing, but with significant geographical variance and for the time being at a modest pace.
  • The first index measuring the carbon emissions intensity of the avant-garde, or 15% least polluting housing stock.


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Marios Kagarlis
Written by

Marios Kagarlis

Chief Data Scientist, Climate Benchmark

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