Sunday, April 14, 2019

Embodied carbon can't be ignored

At the risk of repeating myself, I would like to draw attention again to the issue of carbon embodied in a building at 'practical completion' ie before occupation. Building zero carbon houses or 'passive' houses that emit low levels of carbon over 60 year life is meaningless if most of the carbon is attributable to their construction during the next few years.  It is the very short term that carbon emissions must be reduced (ie the next ten years) for there to be a long term. A moratorium on cement, concrete and masonry while we find a way out of the climate emergency might look like a good idea in the carbon account but if millions of houses are then to be built out of wood, a crisis of another kind (loss of species?) might be hard to avoid.  Being honest about the carbon and material costs (let alone the implications for land take) should mean that we look at alternatives to 'building our way out of the housing crisis.'  (eg see previous posts on sub-divisions and custom splitting)

Given that the scale of embodied carbon is known to Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, the National House Building Council, the UK Green Buildings Council and the Committee on Climate Change (among others), it is dispiriting to see how easily these voices can be ignored.  The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) are well aware of the contradiction, but have no policy to prevent this significant contribution due to the fact that there is "no agreed methodology"!! Since when did Government require agreement on methodology? A reticence reserved for matters of existential importance and high political inconvenience.  So when Homes England, or a Minister, or an Inspector or a Local Council are heard promoting or advocating for new building, they should all be challenged to say how this can be done in accordance with the IPCC maximum of 1.5 degree of warming budget?

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