Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the whole-life carbon emissions of buildings to be reported; to set limits on embodied carbon emissions in the construction of buildings; and for connected purposes.
This will be known as the part Z regulation.
This country has a long, proud history of creating buildings and infrastructure that have enabled Britain to develop and evolve at a rate envied by the rest of the world, but we should reflect on the fact that during that time it is not just Britain that has developed and evolved, but construction itself. Indeed, construction has come a long way since the industrial revolution caused our towns, infrastructure and industry to burgeon. Back then, it was an industry based on judgment, precedent and trial and error, whereas in modern Britain construction is as much an art and a science, led by our engineers and builders, who are world-renowned for their expertise and experience. However, climate change means that it is time for construction to evolve again: as we go about ensuring the UK’s role as a global leader in decarbonisation we must discuss the decarbonising of construction.
Every year, our buildings and construction are responsible for the emission of 150 million tonnes of carbon—greenhouse gases—which is nearly a quarter of our country’s total carbon footprint. Two thirds of those emissions—yes, the majority—are due to the lighting, power, water, heating and cooling of buildings, or what we call operational carbon, and I am proud that this Government have taken bold steps to ensure that those emissions will reduce as part of our net zero strategy. By 2025 all new homes will be installing low-carbon alternatives to gas boilers, for instance, and by 2035 this country will have decarbonised the electricity network completely. As such, by 2035 we can expect that the emissions related to those services will have fallen to an almost negligible amount. Fantastic! However, that leaves a big piece of the pie—the other third. Where do those remaining emissions come from, and what plan do we have to deal with them?
The other third comes from construction itself, and it is responsible for 40 million to 50 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year. For perspective, that is more than the entirety of the UK’s aviation plus shipping. Those 50 million tonnes of carbon emissions are due to the construction, upkeep, refurbishment and demolition of new and existing buildings and infrastructure. Collectively, that is known as embodied carbon, so called because the materials that we build are the physical embodiment of such greenhouse gas emissions. Most embodied carbon emissions are in the construction of the building itself. For a typical new build constructed today, embodied carbon accounts for half the total emissions that the building will be responsible for over its entire lifetime. In some buildings, that same amount is released before the building is even occupied.
Currently, those embodied carbon emissions are completely unregulated. The law places no restriction whatsoever on how much embodied carbon can be emitted when we construct a building. In fact, the 50 million tonnes of carbon due to construction have hardly changed for years—perhaps only altering slightly during a recession. Now, I am not a builder or a developer, but if I was and I desired to build a building that was gratuitously tall or complicated and I said to my architect, “Put as much concrete as you like into the floor slabs”—subject to planning permission, of course—that would be my choice, and there would be no accounting for the carbon impact of those decisions. We are in the middle of a climate emergency, and yet the embodied carbon of our buildings and infrastructure is completely unregulated—there is no requirement by law to do anything about that 50 million tonnes of carbon.
Let us be clear: that is not to say that no one in the construction industry is looking at how to reduce embodied carbon—far from it. I will come back to that in just a moment. However, the regulation and legislation is not there to support such efforts. We are decarbonising our electricity grid and ending our reliance on fossil fuels, but we are leaving ourselves open to a big concrete and steel elephant in the room.
The Climate Change Committee has been advising for four years that embodied carbon needs regulating. During the Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry into the sustainability of the built environment—I am a part of that inquiry, and I see many Committee colleagues present—the regulation of embodied carbon has come up again and again. Meanwhile, our friends around the world in the Netherlands, Sweden, France, Denmark, Finland, the USA and New Zealand are either moving towards introducing embodied carbon regulation or have already done so. The recent net zero strategy set out the Government’s intention to support action in the construction sector by improving reporting on embodied carbon in buildings and infrastructure with a view to exploring a maximum level for new builds in the future, so the ambition is clearly there.
Unlike some of those other countries, which had to create standards to implement embodied carbon regulation, we already have the tools to do it. We have standards and guidance that cover the assessment of carbon emissions for construction: they have been in use in the industry for nearly five years on a voluntary basis and are seen across more and more construction sites in the UK. So we have the tools; now we need the leadership and the regulation to bring an extra level of clarity and make low carbon a requirement in all construction projects around the UK.
I understand that that cannot happen overnight. Parts of the industry still need to upskill their teams and incorporate existing guidance into their standard ways of working. However, at an appropriate pace, with clear direction and agreed implementation dates from this Government, embodied carbon regulation can unlock the creative potential of our construction industry. We can see now that embodied carbon regulation is needed; we can see that it is aligned with the Government’s aspirations and we understand that we have all the tools we need to get it done.
Finally, let us talk about the impact it will have on our workforce. What about our engineers, architects, planners and builders? Will they have to change how they design and build the places we call home, the buildings we meet in and the infrastructure that ties us all together? Is such regulation compatible with the industry, and is our industry ready for it? The answer is yes. The industry wants to play its role in fighting climate change—it is calling for it quite loudly now.
In the summer of last year, the construction industry took the proactive move of responding to the Climate Change Committee’s suggestion on its own and producing a proposed building regulation under the name “Part Z”. “Part Z” was drafted by industry experts and shared for comments across the industry. The response was staggering: 120 of the country’s leading developers, clients, contractors, architects, engineers and institutions writing statements calling for the regulation of embodied carbon.
This country’s history is intertwined with the evolution of construction—Robert Stephenson, the Shard, the Gherkin, the channel tunnel, the Forth bridge, even the Palace of Westminster we stand in today—but it is time for construction to evolve again. We can build more sustainably, we can build out of beautiful natural materials, we can retrofit and we can pay attention to all those issues. It is time to stop putting embodied carbon off as a possible future area to explore. It is time now to regulate embodied carbon.
Question put and agreed to.
That Duncan Baker, Jerome Mayhew, Mr Richard Holden, Anthony Browne, Cherilyn Mackrory, Sir Robert Goodwill, Ian Levy, John McNally, Helen Hayes, James Gray, Dr Matthew Offord and Caroline Lucas present the Bill.
Duncan Baker accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 18 March, and to be printed (Bill 246).
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