This industry-proposed amendment to the UK Building Regulation 2010 was authored by a joint panel including representatives of CIBSE, Institution of Structural Engineers, RIBA and RICS.
It called on Government to introduce legislation to mandate the reporting of carbon emissions in the built environment, along with a view to limiting embodied carbon emissions on projects in the future.
A private members bill was proposed and parliamentary time was given to discuss the issue via the ‘Carbon Emissions (Buildings) Bill’ which was debated on Friday 25 November 2022.
I watched the event live on the BBC Parliament Channel and was initially disappointed when the Government spokesperson stated that they would not be supporting the Bill – meaning it stood no chance of getting into law in its current form at this time.
Without Government support it stood no chance of getting into law
Explaining the rejection
Speaking for the Government, Dehenna Davison MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department of Levelling Up, said that Government agreed with the principles of the Bill and also agrees with the importance of tackling this issue.
In fact, she pretty much agreed with everything, so the lack of support for the Bill puzzled me until I heard further explanation.
Ms Davison explained that the Government was already doing a lot of background work on embodied carbon and associated topics, as part of its route to net zero and was heading to a consultation process in 2023.
That meant that any legislation now would pre-empt these discussions and could also have unintended consequences if this Bill was introduced now.
Ms Davison explained some of the system’s complexity and why the Government could not support the Bill, even though it empathises with the sentiments and ambition contained in it.
“We are concerned that passing such legislation now could bounce the industry into making changes for which it is not fully prepared,” she said.
“The important thing to note is that we will be consulting not just on how we reduce embodied carbon but on how specifically we go about gathering that data, because that data collection will be so important in ensuring that we can decarbonise embodied carbon.”
That is one of the reasons why the Government is so keen to hold consultations before taking any further action.
Introducing UK-wide legislation without proper consultation could potentially put central and local government at odds in what they are asking businesses to report on, especially if it is unclear what is counted and how it is measured.
And that’s before you even look at how embodied carbon is measured and reported internationally.
The Under Secretary also spoke of the dangers of unintended consequences if the legislation was introduced.
In the case of steel for example, which is used extensively throughout construction, this legislation could mean that one type of steel was favoured over another
“We do not want to run the risk of negatively affecting the industry and the market in ways that we do not intend, which is why consulting seems like the most practical and sensible solution,” explained the Under Secretary.
Taking things seriously
Ms Davison finished the debate on the Bill by stating that the Government’s opposition was in no way a dismissal of the seriousness of the issue or of the commitment to tackling it.
“Officials in my Department are working with many of the supporters of this Bill to carry on the essential work of measuring and reducing embodied carbon in construction,” she explained.
“Together, I believe we can adopt the right approach that lets industry and markets properly prepare for change, while not letting up in our fight to tackle carbon emissions, to win the race to net zero and to build the cleaner, greener homes and buildings this country needs.”
The important thing now for me, is how quickly the Government goes about the consultation process and the conclusions it draws from it.
Ms Davison is right that it is vital that we understand how to gather data on embodied carbon and we may have an opportunity to show others around the world, how this can best be done, so that we find ways of reaching global consensus.
Next year becomes critically important then for our journey to net zero and I hope that agreement can be reached soon after the consultation process.
I think it is likely that the Government will decide to include legislation on embodied carbon into the Future Homes Standard and Future Building Standards which are due in 2025.
That seems a long way off.
Chris Newman is Zero Carbon Design Team Manager