UK politicians are not moving fast enough to regulate embodied carbon emissions

The Government’s recent uplift to building regulations Part L has fuelled disappointment across the construction sector. The UKGBC’s reaction came as: “details missing which could and should have clarified what more will be done to deliver net zero buildings by 2050”.

In February last year, ACAN’s campaigns coordinator, Joe Giddings, voiced similar concerns in his interview with dezeen: "There is a huge blind spot in our current building standards framework – in the UK the carbon emissions caused by the construction, maintenance and demolition of new buildings and infrastructure are unregulated".

Gidding’s point has been echoed by hundreds in the construction sector and those working to raise awareness around embodied carbon. While the built environment accounts for 40 percent of global emissions, the carbon released from buiding materials, construction and the demolition of buildings is attributable to a shocking 10 percent.

Yet, little is being done to resolve embodied carbon emissions in the UK. European countries including France, The Netherlands and Finland recognise the urgency in lowering green house gasses from the construction sector and have introduced their own regulations. But with no legislation and little incentive for UK housebuilders to reduce or assess theirs, we remain behind.

Ironically, the construction sector is asking to be regulated.  Government lobbyists have come together with a building regulations amendment proposal ‘Part Z’ for which they have gathered support from investors, developers and contractors.

One vote from Grosvenor Great Britain and Ireland reads: “For too long embodied emissions in construction have been hidden in the built environment. With today’s call the industry is asking for regulation to ensure that every significant UK development tracks and limits its full carbon footprint. We already do this for our large development projects and the time is right to introduce legislation for the whole industry”.

Tom Scott, Construction Carbon founder, points out that at present there is reliance on smaller construction firms assessing and reducing their emissions voluntarily, wanting to set themselves apart: “Some are doing it ahead of the curb and already have a net zero strategy in place”.

According to Simon Sturgis, Founder and Chair of Whole Life Carbon Network, a lot can already be done: “RIBA targets, GLA targets and the LETI Embodied Carbon Primer will put increasing pressure on architects, specifiers and clients to consider their carbon emissions. We will all be under pressure. Government regulations and legislation ‘Part Z’ will eventually come into effect and the truth is that a lot can be done without cost, but we need to move much faster. The break is really down to politicians”.

In short, Part Z would involve whole life carbon assessments for buildings bigger than 1,000 square metres initially. A preliminary assessment based on estimates from projected dimensions and materials would be undertaken before works started. Upon completion, the initial assessment would be updated by substituting estimates with collected data and EPDs specific to the materials and products used.  After an initial phase limited to a restricted portion of the industry, the obligations would be extended to apply to residential buildings (of more than 10 dwellings) and, eventually, to all buildings.

“Embodied carbon is sooner or later going to account for more than 50% of industry related emissions and we must work to reduce this,” says Construction Co founder, Gilbert Lennox-King. “The lack of explicit legislation to regulate and make mandatory embodied carbon assessments becomes ever more critical as the impact of embodied carbon becomes more relevant”.

As Part Z continues to receive support from bodies throughout the industry, built environment experts all over the world have declared a climate and biodiversity emergency - global temperature rises must be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius. So how to speed up government regulation on embodied carbon?