COP26: UKGBC unveils new tool to help businesses measure and reduce carbon across building lifecycles

The Playbook outlines 20 strategies organisations can adopt

The launch of the tool, which has been years in the making, has been timed to coincide with Cities, Regions and Built Environment Day (11 November) at COP26 in Glasgow – the penultimate official day of the climate summit.

Of particular interest will be the details for measuring, reporting and reducing embodied carbon. UKGBC, as is the case with many national Green Building Councils, has provided information on measuring and reducing operational emissions for several years and has dedicated much work in recent years to the need to reduce embodied carbon to net-zero by 2050.

A recent report from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development found that less than 1% of building projects currently account for lifecycle carbon impacts, with embodied carbon being a common omission.

The roadmap states that, at present, around one-quarter of the built environment sector’s emissions are embodied rather than operational. It plots a pathway to net-zero by 2050 for the UK’s entire built environment sector, in which there is a sharp decrease in operational and embodied carbon through to 2035 and a more gradual decrease between 2035 and 2050. By mid-century, the sector would generate less than 20 Mt of CO2e, down from almost 180 Mt of CO2e in 2018. These residual emissions could credibly be addressed using insetting or offsetting.

Supporting the pathway tool is a technical report, providing more in-depth information on data collection and carbon accounting, as well as information on the net-zero scenarios used to inform the roadmap. In the scenario detailed, all of the Council’s policy recommendations – detailed below – are enacted. “Net-zero is achievable for the sector by 2050, but only with urgent government action,” UKGBC said in a statement.

Calls to policy action

In addition to the main report, there are action plans for 14 of the built environment industry’s key stakeholders, plus a separate, specific summary for policymakers.

The summary for policymakers states that “there can be no further delay in embarking on a national programme of home retrofit”, following the failure of the Green Homes Grant. It also recommends that the UK Government mandates that all owner-occupied homes achieve an energy performance certificate (EPC) grade of ‘C’ or higher from 2028; that gas and oil boilers are banned from sale from 2030; that VAT is removed from energy efficiency retrofit works ad that stamp duty rates are tied to energy efficiency. These moves would build on the Heat and Building Strategy and many are also proposed for non-domestic buildings.

On embodied carbon, the summary for policymakers recommends that the developers of all large commercial buildings of 1000m2 or more – and of all housing developments of 10 or more residential units – are mandated to measure and report whole-life carbon by 2023. This requirement could then be extended to smaller developments going forward, by 2030. This would enable the development of minimum standards for embodied carbon in more mature sectors by the middle of the decade.

Delivering on these, and the other recommendations, UKGBC is stating, will require a joined-up approach to improving skills and training, and will require the public sector to lead by example in updating procurement specifications.

Aside from policymakers, there are specific ‘action plans’ for developers; landlords and owners; occupiers; facilities managers; contractors; material and product manufacturers; architects; building services engineers; structural engineers; infrastructure clients; infrastructure owners; infrastructure designers and NGOs, trade associations and professional institutions.

Businesses in all of these categories from within UKGBC’s membership have supported the documents published today. The High-Level Champion for Climate Action for COP26, Nigel Topping, has also offered his support.

“This report epitomises leadership and establishes that the UK built environment has a comprehensive and rigorous plan for abating its emissions across the construction, operation, and demolition of buildings and infrastructure,” said Topping.

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Sarah George

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