What do the limitations of the government’s plan to reach net zero mean for the construction industry?

Published: May 15, 2023
Discover our constantly updated Learning Center, a hub for the latest insights on building costs and related topics. Explore now to enhance your knowledge!
Net Zero Emissions

The government’s plan to reach net zero emissions by 2050 has several limitations that impact the construction industry. 

The industry is responsible for a significant portion of global carbon emissions. Without clear direction from the government, many firms may continue to hinder the ability to meet net-zero targets and contribute to climate change.

Green Alliance states that while progress has been made in reducing operational emissions from buildings, we need to tackle embodied carbon emissions from construction processes. Reducing embodied carbon by improving material efficiency, reuse and sustainable procurement could be a cost-saving measure for businesses and may be necessary for some to stay afloat. 

The state of the matter

A new report by the World Benchmarking Alliance and CDP highlighted that the construction industry is unprepared for climate change. More specifically, the report analysed 50 prominent building and development companies and found that over half do not have plans to ease their transition to a low-carbon future. 

That’s because most of these companies need more effective ways to reduce their emissions, which is particularly concerning given the construction industry is responsible for 37% of global emissions.

None of the companies surveyed are planning to retrain or re-skill their workforce. The report further emphasised that current decisions in the construction industry may lead to the locking in of emissions beyond net zero targets or even jeopardise the ability to decarbonize at speed.

Although most companies analysed performed poorly and did not have a plan, the good news is that there were a few exceptions. 

In conclusion, companies need to make a straightforward climate transition plan. This plan needs to have clear goals and deadlines, and the company has to be able to track how well it’s doing. 

What does RIBA have to say?

The President of RIBA has said that the UK government’s recently published plan to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 is not enough. The program includes several schemes to improve the energy efficiency of 300,000 homes.

However, it does not include a national retrofit strategy, which was discussed and requested by many industry partners. Unfortunately, developers are still considering demolition most of the time instead of retrofitting, severely affecting the amount of waste generated. One helpful line of action would’ve been to remove VAT for retrofit projects to incentivize developers to reuse materials.

RIBA also states that we need a thorough plan for retrofitting the country’s buildings, which will create job opportunities, enhance the skills of workers, and ultimately provide healthier and more eco-friendly homes. 

The government’s plan has also been criticised for not introducing innovations like the insulation scheme – such as ​​loft insulation and cavity wall insulation – earlier, highlighting that these changes were long due. 

The insulation scheme is part of the government’s ambition to cut carbon emissions from buildings and related industries by 15% by 2030. However, the government’s own analysis suggests that further action is needed to meet its international commitments. 

The property sector has called for more ambitious policies, such as minimum energy efficiency standards and regulations that establish a clear methodology for measuring the environmental performance of a building over its complete life cycle. 

Royal Academy of Engineering President Jim McDonald has called for a government delivery body to lead and coordinate climate strategies across different sectors and spheres of society and for urgent action to train people working in the construction environment to reach net zero.

If you’re unsure of what to do to carry out your project while also protecting the environment, contact us so we can guide you in the right direction!