The United Kingdom continues to be at the forefront of addressing climate change and in so doing, is decarbonising sectors all across society, whether it be in energy, transport, agriculture, shipping or aviation. However, as the industry is well aware, buildings and construction account for around 25% of UK carbon emissions, which also need reducing.
Historically, the focus has been almost entirely been on reducing our operational carbon – reducing emissions related mostly to the heating and powering of our buildings. Localised solar and heat pumps will help us do this, as will shifting to wind generation and other sustainable power sources which will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. The UK has committed to decarbonising the electricity system by 2035 – so switch on a light, turn up the air conditioning, or boil the kettle after that date, and the power consumed should result in minimal emissions.
But one thing we still don’t talk about enough is the carbon impacts of construction itself – the embodied carbon emitted due to the production and use of materials. Given the number of homes and buildings we continue to need to build, as well as the huge amount of renovation required across the country, this all adds up.
Every year these embodied carbon emissions total 40 to 50 million tonnes in the UK. That’s more than aviation and shipping combined. But presently there is no law in place that places any restriction on how much embodied carbon can be emitted when we construct our buildings. No law to regulate up to 50 million tonnes of carbon.
In my view, we are missing a trick to reduce significant a part of our UK carbon emissions by introducing embodied carbon regulation in conjunction with the construction industry – an industry that is clear that it is ready to report its embodied carbon emissions, and reduce them to reasonable limits.
If the UK is to continue to be a global leader in decarbonisation, we need to catch up with the Netherlands, Sweden, France, Denmark, Finland, the USA and New Zealand who are either moving to introduce embodied carbon regulation, or have already done it.
The government’s Net Zero Strategy sets out the intention to “support action in the construction sector by improving reporting on embodied carbon in buildings and infrastructure with a view to exploring a maximum level for new builds in the future”. This needs regulation – and I want to help the government to do this and produce a Bill to help get it done.
I am convinced that the introduction of such regulation is feasible, and that the construction industry is ready for it.
The proactive steps that a significant number of major firms have taken to committing to undertake whole life carbon assessments on their projects (often as part of a wider science-based targets commitment) demonstrates to me that the industry is ready to be regulated. The simplicity and clarity of the Part Z industry-proposed amendment to the building regulations, demonstrates to me that regulation is realistic and could be introduced into law within a few years. And the 130 statements written in response to the document from leading developers, builders and designers demonstrates to me that industry wants to see action now.
On Wednesday 2nd February, I will make the case to Parliament for the introduction of my Carbon Emissions (Buildings) Bill.
My bill is looking to bring in the legislation that will enable the industry to have a clear requirement to measure, report, and reduce against aligned targets of embodied carbon – bringing construction regulation in line with the UK’s wider decarbonisation plans.
The industry is telling government that they want this, and as a way to continue our world-beating decarbonisation strategy, the regulation of embodied carbon in the construction sector is a timely and tremendous opportunity for the United Kingdom to continue to be a world leader in cutting carbon emissions.
I hope that the industry will be supportive of my Bill, and that together we can help change construction for the better.