Building and infrastructure design can impact climate change.
What’s going on?
The construction, operation and maintenance of the built environment contributes between 38% and 50% of all global GHG emissions, estimates suggest [source]. By reducing its carbon footprint, the industry can potentially greatly limit the extent of future climate-related risks and play a leading role in transitioning both the global and UK economy to a lower-carbon future.
The UK construction industry has made numerous advancements in lowering carbon emissions from the built environment – cutting carbon emissions by 30% over the past two decades. Recognising the built sector is still a major emitter of GHGs [source], the UK government has set a series of ambitious targets to decarbonise the sector by 2050. This will require the construction industry to reduce carbon emission by 68% by 2030 and by 78% by 2035 relative to 1990 levels.
Realising these challenging carbon reduction targets requires a comprehensive transformation of the sector. The sector needs to consider how GHG emissions can be reduced at each stage in the lifecycle of a building or infrastructure asset, from material extraction through to construction, operation and demolition. To achieve net zero, design innovations are needed at each stage of a project’s life cycle and across both value and supply chains.
Design initiatives aimed at reducing the carbon footprint of the industry include whole-life carbon assessment, designing all new buildings with low carbon heating and cooling solutions, designing out waste, as well as end-of-life stage consideration for all major projects [source].
Ensuring that new build emissions are minimised is only part of the solution, however.
The UK has the oldest building stock in Europe with very low turnover rate of buildings. Consequently, 80% of the homes that will exist in 2050 have already been built and, due to the age of existing buildings, many have poor energy performances. So, retrofitting existing buildings to be more energy efficient is going to be as, if not more important [source].
By reducing the carbon footprint of new and existing buildings, the construction industry can help mitigate climate change severity and impacts.
Adapting to climate change – taking actions that reduce negative impacts and limit vulnerability – will be increasingly important. The construction industry can play a key role here, too, by designing resilient buildings and infrastructure that account for changing climates with more extreme weather events.
New projects will need to plan for climate related-risks and environmental conditions throughout the lifetime of a built asset, that are outside of what it was originally designed to withstand.
Getting nature positive
The construction sector is a hugely important part of the UK economy and society, so those involved in the design process are uniquely positioned to help with both climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts.
Design changes can markedly help to adapt buildings to climate-related risks and in doing so create better spaces in which to live and to work, whilst safeguarding peoples’ health and productivity.
This includes designing energy positive buildings, innovative approaches to low carbon heating and cooling, mitigating the heat island effect, embedding nature-based solutions, accounting for embodied carbon and direct adaptation designs.
Inspired by steps buildings and infrastructure companies are already taking, we’ve compiled suggested actions to help you on your journey to getting nature positive.