Climate Change and Sustainability
In 2019, the UK became the first major economy to pass net zero emissions law which will require the UK to bring greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. By 2023, around 140 countries had pledged to reach net zero, covering about 90% of global emissions. However, not all have set a 2050 deadline.
The Key Issue
The twin challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss, intrinsically linked and both driven by human activities, threaten the stability of Earth’s natural life support systems. The 2023 State of the Climate Report published in the journal Bioscience, declared that "life on planet Earth is under siege" and "we are pushing our planetary systems into dangerous instability."
Roughly 40% of carbon emissions come from the construction, operation, or maintenance of buildings. Heating, cooling, and lighting buildings – operational carbon – account for 28% of global emissions, with the remaining 11% attributable to embodied carbon.
Embodied carbon emissions result from mining, quarrying, transporting, and manufacturing building materials, in addition to construction activities, the repair, renovation and final disposal of buildings. Embodied carbon emissions in the built environment sector are rising and require a firm policy response to meet the net zero 2050 target. Overall GHG emissions are predicted to follow a downward trend, largely due to the implementation of energy efficiency standards for new buildings, but embodied emissions are forecasted to increase. The CIOB argues that this is a key space for policy intervention.
The construction industry consumes large volumes of raw materials and generates one-third of the world’s waste, while hard infrastructure is the second largest driver of man-made pressure on biodiversity.
The built environment must be a key driver of change, not least because what we build today will define tomorrow, but decarbonising existing stock is also a major priority alongside ensuring new buildings are future fit. We must harness the skill and ingenuity of the sector, and collaborate with others, as we aim to ensure all projects delivered today, make a positive contribution to the future we want to see.
Decarbonisation of the built environment is vital to achieving net zero and the industry must increase momentum towards this goal.
Urgent action is needed to reduce the number of buildings being demolished instead of refurbished, and the CIOB has long advocated for the need for long-term, holistic policymaking in this space, including campaigning for interventions such as national retrofit strategies, proposing a range of measures to promote the decarbonisation of existing building stock in different policy contexts. From a policy perspective, tax systems need to be made coherent with climate legislation. As it stands the tax burden is often weighted in favour of unsustainable demolish and rebuild practices, rather than renovate and repair. Governments can incentivise change in the sector by rewarding sustainable construction through the tax system.
Being carbon and resource-efficient is no longer seen as primarily a compliance issue, but is also associated with winning new business, improving efficiency, cutting costs, stimulating innovation, and leading sustainability.
The construction industry has taken steps to become more sustainable by looking at new methods to reduce waste as well as innovating new products that can help improve many facets of the building process. However, it must also now address a wider range of complex issues such as supply chain sustainability, whole life carbon and biodiversity net gain.
Effective leadership is vital to achieving a sustainable built environment, and we call on our members to embrace the opportunities that achieving net zero provides.
Environmental Sustainability Action Plan
The CIOB has adopted an Environmental Sustainability Action Plan to deliver our commitments under this theme in the Corporate Plan 2023-2025. The action plan is a framework to deliver change, setting out activities to embed Sustainability across CIOB functions for the period January 2024 to December 2028. The measures will include providing visible leadership for sustainability on a national and international basis, including influencing policy-makers; ensuring leadership for sustainability is a core part of the value proposition of CIOB membership at all levels; embedding sustainability in relevant learning programmes and ensuring built environment professionals have the knowledge and skills they need to embed environmental sustainability in their approach to modern professionalism; supporting other crucial stakeholders such as clients in understanding their role in delivering a sustainable built environment, and ensuring the CIOB is ‘walking the talk’ in its own operations.
Our New Guides
The Guide to Sustainability in the Built Environment is specifically tailored to the construction industry and showcases the practices, standards and metrics that any profession associated with buildings and construction needs to understand.
The Building Performance and Evaluation Guide covers the management tools and methodologies to support building performance and evaluation, from the design stage through to post-occupancy.
Explore our work on Climate Change and Sustainability
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