Leading construction industry and built environment experts from 11 organisations are demanding policy action from UK political party leaders in the coming election year.
The group of experts has issued a paper to political leaders asking them to include in their manifestoes a commitment to move to reduce embodied carbon emissions in construction within two years of starting government.
They assert that this is necessary as buildings and construction form a substantial part of UK carbon emissions, which are a main driver of climate change. UK policy has stalled, and urgent action is needed.
The organisations behind the paper are: UK Green Building Council (UKGBC), The Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE), Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), Construction Industry Council (CIC), Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE), UK Architects Declare, RIBA, RICS, Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE), and Part Z.
The paper also lists specific steps for action, including:
- In 2024: Policy signalled confirming the dates and interventions below
- By 2026: Mandate the measurement and reporting of whole-life carbon emissions for all projects with a gross internal area of more than 1000m2 or that create more than 10 dwellings
- By 2028: Introduce legal limits on the upfront embodied carbon emissions [those emissions due to the use of materials in the initial construction] of such projects, with a view to future revision and tightening as required.
The group says these actions are essential as around 1 in 10 tonnes of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions are embodied carbon emissions. These relate to the production and use of construction materials, which account for a substantial part of the UK’s overall carbon emissions.
Will Arnold, head of climate action at the Institution of Structural Engineers said: “These equate to 64 million tonnes CO2e per year, more than the country’s aviation and shipping emissions combined. Despite their magnitude, embodied carbon emissions remain unregulated in the UK.”
Louise Hutchins, Head of Policy for UKGBC says: “With time running out to keep global temperatures to 1.5C it’s astounding that one in 10 tonnes of UK climate emissions are still unregulated. From Europe to California, embodied carbon emissions are already regulated so we know it’s feasible. And we know from our members that industry is keen to play its part, but it needs government to set a nationwide approach to drive action at scale and pace.”
Simon Sturgis from Part Z, and lead author of the RICS Professional Standard on Whole Life Carbon Calculations and Special Advisor to the Environmental Audit Select Committee, said: “These initiatives are supported by hundreds of businesses, including some of the UK’s largest housebuilders, developers, contractors and financial institutions, all of which can be found on the Part Z website – such as Barratt Homes, British Land and NatWest. All see such regulation as important for consistency and accelerated action in this area.”
Amanda Williams, head of environmental sustainability at the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) said: “There have been numerous industry initiatives over recent years, calling for government action to reduce the construction industry’s embodied carbon emissions. We now join forces as an expert group to pull these proposals together, uniting with one voice for change and asking Government to ensure the UK keeps pace with those who are currently leading this agenda.”
Dr. Anastasia Mylona, Technical Director at CIBSE, said: “Building services account for up to 25% of the embodied carbon of new buildings and up to 75% of retrofit buildings, yet the embodied carbon of MEP products is the least understood and quantified. Recognising the significant impact of building services in the whole life carbon assessment of buildings, CIBSE has published TM65 to provide a methodology to quantify embodied carbon at product level. We are envisaging that better defined embodied carbon and industry led guidance will enable the regulation of embodied carbon emissions.”
Professor Stephen Hodder MBE, CIC Climate Change Committee Chair, said: “Over the years, numerous construction industry initiatives have called for government action in reducing the construction industry’s embodied carbon emissions. CIC welcome the collaboration with this expert group to pull these proposals together, uniting with one voice for change, encouraging the sector to do better in the fight against climate change.”
Lewis Barlow, ICE Trustee for Carbon and Climate, said: “The construction industry has been calling for government action to address embodied carbon emissions for many years. Tools and methodologies to minimise these emissions across the built environment – such as PAS 2080 – already exist, however we still need clear governmental direction to ensure their consistent use and to help maintain our national trajectory towards net zero. We are pleased to unite with fellow industry experts to champion this message.”
Zoe Watson, member of the UK Architects Declare Steering Group and Head of Sustainability at Allies and Morrison, said: “With 2024 a general election year, we call on party leaders to make these manifesto commitments and for the next government to act on them.”
Muyiwa Oki, RIBA President, said: “Our message is clear – embodied carbon regulation is critical to reaching net zero. As built environment professionals we understand our duty to reduce emissions and have been leading the charge. We now need urgent action from the next government to deliver a greener future that we deserve.”
Amit Patel, RICS Head of Construction Professional Practice, said: “Measurement and reporting of whole life carbon emissions can be achieved through the integration of International Cost Measurement Standards (ICMS), RICS’ Whole life carbon assessment for the built environment and the Built Environment Carbon Database to enable accurate project benchmarking.”
The authors note that these policy recommendations would be complementary to the ‘carbon pricing mechanism’ announced by the government in 2023 and which are due to be introduced in 2027, as well as to existing UK initiatives that incentivise the use of lower carbon cement and steel.
The policy paper can be read online.