Call for whole-life carbon measure for new buildings

Whitehall’s planning reforms may have incentivised more carbon intensive building
09 June 2022 , By Katie Coyne

EAC report highlights the action needed to reach net zero in the built environment, as RIBA calls on government to collaborate with the construction industry

MPs have called for mandatory whole-life carbon assessments for new buildings to address the construction industry’s huge CO2 emissions.

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) report is urging Whitehall to implement an assessment that would calculate emissions from construction, maintenance, and demolition as well as from day-to-day energy usage once built.

The report Building to net zero: costing carbon in construction said the built environment was responsible for 25% of carbon emissions. However, it added there were a variety of tools and methodologies used to calculate CO2 emissions and recommended the RICS’ whole-life carbon statement be used as a benchmark to attain consistency.

The committee also urged the UK government to look at the impact of its recent planning reforms. These “appear” to have created an incentive for demolition and new-build, which are generally more carbon intensive, as opposed to retrofit.

The EAC highlighted the “chronic skills gap” needed for energy efficiency and retrofit and warned that without this the UK’s net zero ambitions will “fall flat," and reiterated its previous recommendation for a national retrofit strategy and upskilling programme.

“I urge the Government to publish a retrofit strategy and upskilling programme that can ensure the UK economy will have the green jobs necessary to deliver a low-carbon built environment.”

Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, EAC Chair said: “From homes to offices, retail units to hospitality venues, our buildings have a significant amount of locked-in carbon, which is wasted each time they get knocked down to be rebuilt, a process which produces yet more emissions.

“Ministers must address this urgently. Promising steps are being taken: for instance, the Levelling-Up, Housing and Communities Secretary of State recently paused the demolition and retrofit of Marks and Spencer on Oxford Street on environmental grounds.

“But much more needs to be done, and baseline standards for action need to be established. Mandatory whole-life carbon assessments, and targets to crack down on embodied carbon, provide part of the answer. Constructors and developers can then determine which low-carbon materials, such as timber and recycled steel, they can use. 

“As in many other areas in the drive to net zero, the UK must have the green skills to make its low carbon future a reality. Before the summer recess in July, I urge the Government to publish a retrofit strategy and upskilling programme that can ensure the UK economy will have the green jobs necessary to deliver a low-carbon built environment.”

Simon Allford, President of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), said: "The Environmental Audit Committee’s (EAC) latest report puts into stark reality the action needed to reach net zero in the built environment. Having participated in the committee's call for evidence, I am pleased to see that our key recommendations on embodied carbon have been adopted.

“This is a vital area where the Government’s policies on sustainability in the built environment have, to date, fallen short. I urge the Government to adopt the EAC’s recommendations and collaborate with the construction industry, who stand ready to work hard to effectively deliver them.” 

 

Image credit: Shutterstock

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