New building is an environmental issue

06 April 2021

Built Environment contributes 45% of the total carbon emitted in the UK,

The UK is legally bound to reach net zero carbon by 2050.  The Architects Climate Action Group (Acan) campaign group, is highlighting the that buildings made of brick, concrete and glass require, at present, burning large quantities of ‘fossil fuel’.  There is great focus on the energy efficiency of buildings once they are occupied, but so far very little attention has been paid to the carbon emitted in getting them built, and eventually dismantled – from extracting raw materials and manufacturing components, to the toxic by-products of demolition leaking out in landfill.

Acan estimates that this “embodied carbon” accounts for up to three-quarters of a building’s total emissions over its lifespan, a proportion that is only going to grow as the energy grid becomes increasingly decarbonised with the rise of renewables. With the built environment contributing about 45% of the total carbon emitted in the UK, the embodied energy of construction has become the vital element to focus on.

Acan highlight that:

  • Embodied carbon emissions account for up to 75% of a building’s total emissions over its lifespan.
  • Total embodied carbon emissions of new buildings & infrastructure in the UK accounts for around 49 Mt CO2e, a figure in excess of 10% of our national territorial emissions.
  • Addressing embodied carbon is widely agreed to be necessary to meet 2050 net zero emissions targets.
  • There is industry consensus; with the major professional bodies providing guidance on assessment; e.g. RICS,  RIBA
  • A standard assessment methodology exists;(‘Whole Life-Cycle Carbon Assessment’) as set out in BS EN 19578.14
  • The major constraint on reductions to embodied carbon is that there is currently no requirement within Building Regulations, or within National Planning Policy, for emissions to be measured, reported or reduced.

The Guardian has an interesting article on the subject

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