There is no doubt that climate change is having an ever-increasing impact on our world, and that all sections of the population have a role to play in protecting the environment for future generations. The Scottish Government's current legislative programme includes proposals for a Scottish Climate Change Bill, which will sit within and complement the framework of the UK Climate Change Bill, and will aim to put in place a structure for Scotland within which to deliver its target for reduction of the major greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, a target significantly in excess of the lesser UK target of 60% reduction of carbon dioxide emissions.

There has already been considerable consultation on proposals for the Scottish Climate Change Bill. The latest consultation document contains the Scottish Government's Proposals for Improving the Energy Performance of Existing Non-Domestic Buildings, a key part of the Government's commitment to meet targets for emission savings and to tackle climate change.

Existing non-domestic buildings

Existing buildings, the methods used in their construction or alteration, and the ways in which they function, all use substantial amounts of energy and produce significant carbon dioxide emissions. Although just one aspect of a many-headed approach to emission reduction, action in relation to existing buildings is perceived by the Scottish Government as an area where measurable results can be obtained for comparatively modest cost.

Measures and incentives already exist to encourage owners of buildings to take steps to improve the performance of their buildings, including interest free loans, capital allowance enhancements, audits, guidance and advice. Curiously, the introduction of Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) is included in the incentives listed in the consultation document. Whether owners and landlords would agree with this definition of EPCs is debatable, although there is no doubt that the impending introduction of the requirement for EPCs in Scotland is bringing energy issues to the fore, in both the residential and commercial markets.

Assessment of carbon and energy performance (ACEP)

The principal proposition in this consultation paper is that owners of buildings should be required to carry out an assessment of the energy performance of their buildings (non-domestic only). This proposal and, indeed, much of the Scottish Government's building standards strategy, stems from the recommendations of a panel of experts established by Scottish Ministers in 2007, chaired by Lynne Sullivan.

The Sullivan Report recommended that legislation should be introduced to require all owners of non-domestic buildings to conduct a carbon and energy assessment, and produce a programme for upgrading the building based on the results of the assessment, and that local authorities, or similar public bodies, should be empowered to check these assessments. The process should be assisted and supported by published guidance, and ways of encouraging owners to put recommendations arising from the carbon and energy assessment into practice should be formulated.

The consultation document pushes the concept beyond the Sullivan proposals, in inviting views as to whether, following an ACEP of a building, owners should be obliged to carry out works to the buldings to achieve improvements to energy performance.

How would an ACEP interact with an EPC?

There is no denying that steps must be taken to tackle climate change and its causes, although a property owner who has just spent what may be many thousands of pounds on obtaining EPCs for buildings which he lets to tenants, may be somewhat nonplussed at the additional requirement to have another, apparently similar, assessment carried out – an ACEP – which could also carry with it the obligation to carry out upgrading works, particularly when, as the owner is not the occupier of the building, the reality may be that he is not always in a position to control the energy performance of that building, dictated as it invariably is, in large measure, by the activities of the occupants.

At the moment there is no requirement on an owner of a building to do anything once he obtains an EPC, either under the Scottish regime for EPCs for existing buildings, or the EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, from which it stems. While it is generally supposed that market forces may impel owners to carry out improvements, such as the ones that may be included as recommendations in the EPC itself, to improve the asset rating of the building, whether that will happen in reality remains to be seen, and may be influenced by whatever the general perception of the worth of EPCs turns out to be.

The proposal is that an owner of an existing non-domestic building would be required to obtain an ACEP regardless of whether or not he was selling or letting. For an owner who has not already had to obtain an EPC, on the sale or letting of his building, this could provide valuable information about the energy performance status of the building, but it is not clear how much of an overlap in terms of time, cost and effort there might be in the additional requirement to obtain an ACEP as well, where an EPC has already been obtained.

Currently EPCs will have a lifespan of 10 years. This is already felt by many to be too long a period, with the EPC at the end of its life potentially bearing little relevance to the actual energy performance capabilities of the building by that time. The consultation document suggests that there could be a requirement to renew the ACEP perhaps every five years, with the possibility of further improvements being required at that time.

Who will be liable for carrying out any improvements?

Recently published regulations on EPCs - The Energy Performance of Buildings (Scotland) Regulations 2008 specify that the owner must make a copy of a valid EPC available free of charge to a prospective purchaser or tenant. In contrast, the consultation document suggests that owners of buildings would be able to delegate the responsibilities under an ACEP to other parties, in particular to tenants of the building, although with the proviso that it would be up to the third party whether or not to accept responsibility, making it a matter for negotiation in all the circumstances.

Any obligations to carry out a programme of improvements following on from an ACEP, would in all probabliity be introduced on a phased basis over a period of years, so that the financial and operational impacts of such works could be managed by businesses. Landlords would need to ensure that they have adequate rights to access the premises occupied by their tenants to carry out any improvements, and thought should also be given to sharing of responsibility for improvements, particularly where measures are necessaary due to the tenant's use of, or operations within the premises.

Overall the Government are keen to emphasise that initial costs and the short term pain associated with them ought to be outweighed in the longer term by diminished rates of consumption of resources and consequent reduction in expenditure on energy and materials.

Practical performance standards

Another key recommendation of the Sullivan Report is the development of practical performance standards for existing buildings. While the requirements of building standards can be adjusted and developed to improve the energy performance of new buildings through building regulations, existing building stock cannot be regulated in the same way. Building on the requirements for, and recommendations made under EPCs, attention should be given to evolving minimum performance standards for this category of building, which encompasses the great majority of the built environment.

Have your say

All of this is up for discussion, although clearly the terms of the Sullivan Report have a strong influence on Government direction. Many owners and occupiers of buildings, particularly the larger organisations, already have in place, or are in the process of formulating, policies or programmes which address the sustainable use of resources, including the premises they own or occupy. As those who have to live with the practical consequences of Government policies in this area, owners and occupiers should take whatever opportunities they can, to influence the approach to be taken by Government on this critical subject, where it appears the regulatory burden will continue to increase. The consultation period runs until 24 November 2008.

Out of all of this, however, one thing is certain - doing nothing about climate change is not an option. View the Scottish Government Consultation: Action on Climate Change: Proposals for Improving the Energy Performance of Existing Non-Domestic Buildings.