Climate Change and Construction: Our Moral Duty

Chris clarke cut out

The climate emergency is not going away and we know we must take urgent action.

But with capital cost inflation delaying project starts, the Ukraine conflict, cost of living crisis and looming recession there is a worry that public sector investors and local authorities could lose sight of their long-term net zero objectives. A lack of action is particularly concerning when investing in low carbon assets goes hand in hand with combatting spiralling energy bills through reducing heating demand.

The built environment is responsible for more than 40 per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions, and the UK’s public estate, valued at roughly £515bn, makes up a significant chunk of that.

From working with local authorities, we know that retrofitting and renewing the ageing public estate will play a significant role in helping to achieve the UK government’s 2050 net-zero target and the 2045 equivalent in Scotland. But achieving those targets won’t be easy and that’s why we need to act now.

At a recent Economic Forum organised by SCAPE Scotland in Edinburgh there was much discussion among the expert panel around urgency and the importance of collaboration. Events like these are important because as an industry we have a responsibility to pinpoint problems and look for solutions in tackling climate change. We all have a role to play in that journey.

The SCAPE ethos is one of partnership and we and our framework delivery partners recognise we have a duty to help public bodies reach their net zero goals by offering accelerated solutions.

In Scotland, you have a huge amount to be proud of. The Scottish net zero public sector building standards were published years ahead of the standards being developed for rest of the UK. The recent decision to adopt a Passivhaus standard for new build homes in Scotland is a further signal of intent. There has been some fantastic work done but, like everywhere else, no one is doing the actual work needed fast enough.

Most of our local authority clients, if not all of them, have declared a climate emergency. They want to ensure their own buildings and the wider communities they support are sustainable. They just need help doing so quickly and we are ready to do that. Through our approach, we have removed the time delay that public procurement processes can take. We can help our clients get started immediately with certified net zero new build and low carbon retrofit projects; an approach that responds at speed given the emergency we face.

If it’s an emergency then we need to do something about it and we will advocate for that action. We are running out of excuses and the reality of the situation is so important to communicate to people.

Unfortunately, we have been procrastinating on this issue. In 2016, the Paris Climate Accord took effect, seeking for the international community to cut greenhouse gas emissions to a level which will limit the impact of global warming to 1.5 degrees warming. All the projections suggest we’re not going to make this target and the reality of what that means for our UK infrastructure, housing and health care systems during prolonged summer heatwaves and extreme weather events is deeply concerning. The worldwide socio-economic implications linked to climate migration and reducing crop yields could be catastrophic. While there is still an opportunity to mitigate the impact, it will be unforgiveable if we don’t act.

One encouraging development is that in our discussions about reducing carbon emissions, we are finding this is no longer a standalone consideration about reducing green-house gasses. In the same conversation we are beginning to talk about climate resilience and mitigating the risks of overheating buildings. We can also talk about reducing whole life and operating costs; we can talk about the quality of better built greener homes and the wider built environment, we can discuss inward investment and promoting innovation by UK business and more. All these positive things are part of the benefits of a holistic low carbon transition.

We recognise our responsibility at SCAPE to provide strong leadership around decarbonisation and climate change and that’s what we offer. The first steps on the road to net zero are straightforward. Take action.

For the sake of the future, take that first step and start making a difference now.

Chris Clarke is SCAPE’s performance and improvement director and is a steering group member for the Construction Leadership Council’s Carbon Reduction Code, as well as a co-convenor of the sustainability group at the National Association of Construction Frameworks.

Chris clarke

Written by:

Chris Clarke

Performance and Improvement Director