'It's time to decarbonise construction' - MP calls for regulation

Houses under construction in north Norfolk. 

Houses under construction in north Norfolk. - Credit: Chris Bishop

In his latest monthly column, North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker writes about an upcoming Carbon Emissions (Buildings) Bill he plans to put before parliament. 

Firstly, I hope you managed to have a good Christmas and enjoyable New Year.

North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker

North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker - Credit: Richard Townshend Photography

Although the surge in Omicron cases gave us significant reason to be cautious, I am pleased that we took proportionate measures with Plan B, which enabled us to have a far better Christmas with our loved ones, than last year.

I sincerely wish you all a Happy New Year and let’s all hope that 2022 will finally be better.

However in this month’s column I want to give us a break from the pandemic and outline a 'ten minute rule bill' I am bringing to the House on the February 2.

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner speaking during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Common

MP Duncan Baker plans to put forward a 'ten minute rule bill' in the Commons. - Credit: PA

This is an opportunity to change the law and for MPs to get their ideas taken forward by the government, if successfully adopted.

The United Kingdom continues to be at the forefront of addressing climate change and in so doing, is decarbonising sectors all across society.

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Whether it be in energy, transport, agriculture, shipping or aviation. One of the largest sectors is also our homes and other buildings, which accounts for up to 25pc of carbon emissions.

So far in our homes, the focus has been almost entirely been on reducing our operational carbon. In effect, reducing our emissions in the way we heat and power our homes.

Inspectors are to hold hearings to help determine if a blueprint which details where nearly 50,000 h

Homes under construction in Norfolk's north. - Credit: Chris Bishop

Moving to solar or heat pumps will help us do this, as will shifting to wind generation and other sustainable power sources which will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

By 2030, flick a switch or boil the kettle and the power in our homes will almost entirely come from green power with minimal emissions.

But one thing we don’t talk about, is the carbon impact in the construction process of building our homes. It’s hardly mentioned.

Embodied carbon is the emissions caused due to the construction materials used and that has a significant carbon impact as well.

Given the number of homes and buildings we need, as well as the renovations, this all adds up.

In my view, we are missing a trick to decarbonise a significant part of our UK carbon emissions by working with the construction industry and regulating embodied carbon - especially when the construction industry wants to and is ready to play its role in decarbonising.

In my view, climate change means the construction industry must now evolve. If we are to be a global leader we need to catch up with the Netherlands, Sweden, France, Denmark, Finland, the USA and New Zealand who are either moving to introduce embodied carbon regulation or they’ve already done it.

Every year our buildings and construction are responsible for the emission of over 150 million tonnes of greenhouse gases – nearly a quarter of our country’s total carbon footprint.

A third, 50 million tonnes, directly relates to construction and materials. That’s more than aviation and shipping combined.

But presently there is no law in place that places any restriction on how much embodied carbon can be emitted when we construct our buildings. No law to regulate 50 millions tonnes of carbon.

It strikes me that when we are decarbonising our electricity grid, ending our reliance on gas, phasing out coal - why are we leaving ourselves with a big concrete and steel elephant in the room?

The government’s net zero strategy sets out the 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”.

The ambition for the government is to create regulation – I want to help them do this and produce a bill to help get it done.

The good news is that, the construction industry have taken the proactive step to respond to the need for this and have produced a proposed building regulation under the name Part Z.

The momentum to drive this idea is already there.

What’s more, we now have more than 130 of the country‘s leading developers, contractors, architects and engineers all calling for the regulation of embodied carbon in the sector.

My bill is looking to bring in the legislation that will enable the industry to have a clear requirement to measure, report, and reduce against aligned targets of embodied carbon and in doing so we will address the concrete and steel elephant in the room.

The industry is telling us they want this and as a way to continue our world beating decarbonisation strategy, the regulation of embodied carbon in the construction sector is a timely and tremendous opportunity for the United Kingdom to continue to be a world leader in cutting carbon emissions.

I hope my bill can help change the law.