Embodied carbon emissions from the built environment must be tackled now if we are to meet our climate change ambitions says David Warburton, MP for Somerton and Frome, and chair of the APPG for the Timber Industries.
With the COP26 summit, the Net-Zero Strategy and England Trees Action Plan all coming together, 2021 must be seized upon as a pivotal year in our mission to decarbonise the UK in the context of a commitment to slash emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels.
Over the past three decades our carbon emissions have nearly halved. This reduction has come from change in just three areas: (1) a switch away from coal; (2) cleaner industry shifting away from carbon-intensive manufacturing and; (3) a smaller and cleaner fossil fuel supply industry.
The gains made across these sectors – in particular energy, where renewables surpassed fossil fuel energy supply for the first time in 2020 – should be applauded. But the progress in these sectors belies the fact that there are many areas where far more work needs to be done.
As chair of the APPG for the Timber Industries, I see that our built environment is responsible for nearly 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions. These emissions come from two main sources, which are:
- Operational emissions are associated with the energy required to run a building (such as the energy used to provide lighting, power, heating, cooling, ventilation and water services).
- Embodied emissions are associated with all the non-operational aspects of a building (such as those from the extraction, manufacture and assembly of a building’s materials and components – its repair, maintenance and refurbishment, plus its end of life activities).
While operational carbon has been regulated with increasing strength, including the incoming Future Homes Standard, embodied carbon emissions have escaped the attention of regulators.
Embodied carbon emissions can account for up to 75% of a building’s lifetime greenhouse gas emissions and are responsible for over 10% of our national emissions. Addressing these emissions is essential if we are to build back greener and achieve net-zero by 2050.
It’s vital that we now embark on creating this change. I am pleased to say I will be supporting the ten-minute rule motion on the regulation of embodied carbon emissions in the UK put forward by my colleague, Duncan Baker MP on 2nd February.
This motion aims to ensure that whole-life carbon emissions are reported upon construction and that legal limits are in place to ensure embodied emissions are reduced, following on from a campaign by the construction industry for the inclusion of a ‘Part Z’ in building regulations.
It is why I will be watching with close interest the conclusions of the Environmental Audit Committee as they investigate the sustainability of the built environment, with this cross-party inquiry pivotal in scrutinising and shaping government policy on built environment emissions.
It is why I will be calling for greater action on increasing the use of wood in construction in the UK. Today, we have an existing technology to help reduce our carbon emissions right now, particularly in our new build housing with the greater use of timber frame.
It is also why I will be championing the work of the timber in construction working group to develop a policy roadmap to safely increase the use of timber in construction in England: an action we called for in last year’s report ‘How the timber industries can help solve the housing crisis’.
Using more timber in construction is essential if we are to reduce embodied emissions as it displaces carbon-intensive materials, and acts as a form of carbon capture and storage, with nearly a tonne of CO2 sequestered for every cubic metre of timber used.
The role of timber has been recognised repeatedly by the Climate Change Committee, and now by the Government within the Net Zero Strategy and England Trees Action Plan. This promises to be an exciting year for creating a more sustainable, safer, and healthier built environment.
I encourage MPs who are interested in sustainability, modern methods of construction, housing, building safety, climate change and forestry to get involved with the timber industries, and to join our APPG to find out more about the great work we are set to do in 2022.
To find out more about the APPG for the Timber Industries and our activities, do please contact our secretariat, the Confederation of Timber Industries, at [email protected]. There’s much to be done and we now have the opportunity to do it together.
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