New rules proposed for construction carbon

Posted on 22 November 2021

New regulations should be introduced for construction to avert the risk of missing net-zero goals, the UK Green Building Council has warned.

The body’s Net Zero Whole Life Carbon Roadmap - published to coincide with Built Environment Day at the COP26 climate summit – has called for legislation to limit the damage development does to the environment both in construction and use. It recommended regulation of both the operational and embodied carbon emissions from new buildings. Embodied carbon is a term relating to the CO2 created in the production of materials.

The study includes a projection that built environment carbon emissions will only fall by 60 per cent in the 60 years after 1990 under current measures. The amount of carbon offsetting that would be needed to bring it down to net zero would be greater than the UK's offsetting capacity via tree planting and other land use and engineering solutions, such as carbon capture. It does not address overseas offsetting options.

The report warns that the lack of capacity could mean that the construction industry could itself ruin the country’s chances of becoming net zero by 2050.

A series of recommendations to address this are made in the roadmap, including calls for Building Regulations to be amended to include both “energy usage intensity targets” for all new builds from 2025 and progressively tightening limits on embodied carbon.

UK Green Building Council chief executive Julie Hirigoyen said: “After all the talk, it’s time for action.

“The Net Zero Whole Life Carbon Roadmap pulls together disparate strands of recent policy and action into one coherent pathway, with clear recommendations for national government and local authorities, as well as the private sector and the wider industry. We urge policy-makers and industry to embed these recommendations into policies and strategies to make good on the promises and commitments of COP26.”

Other recommendations in the report include:

  • Nationwide retrofitting of existing homes, driving the transition from fossil fuel heating and removing VAT from energy-efficient retrofits;

  • Mandatory energy performance disclosure for non-domestic buildings linked to financial incentives;

  • Adoption of a design-for-performance approach to new buildings including minimum standards for key appliances;

  • Investment in industrial decarbonisation of construction material supply chains;

  • Planning reforms to prioritise reuse of existing buildings and assets.

Commenting on the roadmap, Arcadis UK director Simon Bimpson said: “The focus on embodied-carbon emissions is a watershed moment for the construction industry, and will mean significant changes for the entire supply chain. The need to look at infrastructure projects in the wider context, rather than at an individual level, is crucial for meeting the UK’s carbon reduction commitments.”

The UK Government’s COP26 climate action champion Nigel Topping said: “This report epitomises leadership and establishes that the UK built environment has a comprehensive and rigorous plan for abating its emissions across the construction, operation and demolition of buildings and infrastructure.”

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