Our industry faces an immense challenge in recovering from the impact of Covid19. But in supporting this recovery, we must also accelerate work towards tackling the defining challenge of the 21st Century – the climate emergency – by reducing carbon emissions. New construction activity and the existing built environment are major sources of carbon emissions and therefore our sector has a crucial responsibility alongside government to take action, and the CLC is committed to playing its part in this joint endeavour.
CLC and the delivery of Net Zero
1. The Challenge. The UK has committed through the Climate Change Act to achieve a target of “net zero” carbon by 2050 and to contribute to the UN international Paris Agreement to combat climate change. Delivering this target will require a much greater understanding of the many ways in which new construction activity and the existing built environment contribute to the national carbon total. We already know that a dramatic reduction in carbon emissions linked to the built environment is required, as these account for around 40% of the UK’s total. However, built environment emissions have hardly reduced in the latter half of the 2010s, and there remains the very significant challenge of decarbonising heat. New construction activity and upgrading the existing built environment therefore have a crucial role to play in changing this, through designing, constructing, managing and then reusing or recycling buildings, homes, commercial properties and infrastructure. This will require a major transformation of the industry.
2. Who should be involved? Achieving the objective of net zero carbon will require the mobilisation of all parts of the construction and built environment sectors. Action is needed from everyone – clients (both private and public), architects and designers, engineers, contractors, specialists, housebuilders and firms specialising in domestic RMI (repair, maintenance, improvement), as well as product manufacturers, merchants and the related professions and at end of life of a structure the demolition and recycling sectors. Firms will need to adapt and change their ways of working, the products and materials they use or produce, and equip their workforce with new technologies and skills to achieve this aim. Action must happen at all levels – national, company, project and product. Government’s role is to provide the regulatory, fiscal and policy framework to enable the industry to deliver, and the public sector as a major built environment owner and the largest client and procurer of construction projects has the opportunity to lead by example.
The CLC welcomes the work that has already been undertaken, and is in progress, to reduce carbon emissions by many in the sector from a wide range of professional institutions, trade associations and individual firms. These have sought to identify how they and other organisations within the industry can take action to reduce carbon emissions and adapt to the climate changes already expected and becoming apparent. Crucially, these commitments, action plans and recommendations are starting to prompt the urgent and necessary changes.
3. A Green Recovery. With the increased emphasis, and government impetus, for a green recovery in response to COVID-19, the CLC is committed to playing its part. The Construction 2025 Strategy and the Construction Sector Deal already include a commitment to reduce carbon emissions from the built environment by 50% and delivering this is a crucial step in the journey towards net zero carbon.
Accelerating the transition to net zero is also intended to be an important outcome of the CLC’s Post COVID Roadmap to Recovery. Included in its objectives is the reduction of carbon emissions and improving the sustainability and resource efficiency of the construction and built environment sectors, including making measurable progress towards delivering net zero carbon. To shape and support the work of delivering the recovery plan, the CLC has set up several Industry Working Groups, all of which therefore include net zero as a key objective of their work in delivering the roadmap.
4. Further action is being taken by the Green Construction Board, through which the CLC is already advising government on regulatory, policy and technical requirements to overcome key barriers to the delivery of net zero. This will continue to lead work for the CLC, support the Recovery Plan Working Groups and ensure that net zero carbon is embedded across all CLC’s activities.
5. There are many other aspects of CLC’s work that contributes to transitioning the industry to Net Zero, including:
- Procurement models. Changes are needed to procurement models so that values such as net zero, well being, safety etc are more emphasised at the contractual stage of construction projects. The CLC’s Procuring for Value work is therefore encouraging the adoption of procurement and delivery models focused on the whole life performance of buildings and infrastructure, and ensuring these are efficient, safe, sustainable and can be adapted and improved to achieve net zero outcomes.
- Innovation and Research. The Transforming Construction Research Challenge, an essential component of the Construction Sector Deal, is supporting a range of R&D and demonstration projects that are intended to increase the efficiency of material use and reduce waste, reduce carbon emissions from processes, and equip firms with the tools to measure whole life carbon during the design phase of a project. The Active Building Centre, a key element of the programme, is developing buildings that are net energy positive and can generate and store their own energy and heat.
- Skills and Finance. The CLC is also pursuing work to identify the skills necessary to deliver net zero outcomes, as well as exploring the increasing role of finance in delivering sustainable performance.
6. In summary, the CLC is working together with government to bring improved focus and coherency to the many actions and innovations which need to be, and are being taken across the industry, to reduce carbon emissions and improve resource efficiency across the entire built environment sector. The CLC supports the commitments made by those within the sector on climate change and on the parallel crisis of biodiversity loss. The Post CoVID Recovery Plan is its most recent call for action from all parts of the sector to work with government to deliver not only recovery for the industry but also to accelerate the urgent and necessary transformation of the industry to enable it to play its part in the delivery of the 2050 net zero carbon target.