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COP26 – The Role of Construction in Addressing the Climate Crisis

31.08.2021

In just two months, COP26 will take place in Glasgow, bringing 190 world leaders and their representatives together, with the aim of accelerating action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The stakes are high.  In August this year, the IPCC released a report described as ‘a code red for humanity’ highlighting the disastrous consequences if we are unable to meet the 1.5⁰C threshold for global heating.

The construction industry has long been aware of the importance of minimising its impact on the environment, and huge advances have been made in terms of materials, processes, and legislation.  Here we look at how the sector is playing its part in working towards climate stabilisation.

 

Legislation and Leadership

In 2017, the UK Green Building Council set out its Ambitions for 2027 report, aimed at making ‘sustainable building second nature’ and setting out a framework for change that would enable construction businesses to address environmental issues whilst maintaining commercial success.

The UK GBC has focussed on education, influencing policy at a local and national level, and creating industry networks.  In the run-up to COP26 it is running monthly #BuildingtoCOP26 Forums in conjunction with the World GBC.

In its mission statement, the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) sets out a target of assisting the UK construction sector to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2025 in line with Government targets.  In order to do so, the CLC launched its ConstructZero Framework  in July this year, setting out nine priorities under three key areas; transport, buildings, and construction activity.  The framework also sets out support available to members from the organisation and the Government.

In addition, in order to meet its targets of becoming net zero by 2050, the UK Government is continuing to prioritise decarbonisation of the construction industry. Earlier this summer, Construction minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan outlined three government procurement changes designed to push the industry towards achieving net-zero.

 

Industry Innovation

If net zero is to be achieved, change is inevitable.  Already, the construction industry is focussed on how to lessen its environmental impact and reduce carbon emissions.  In its series entitled ‘the 75% problem’, RICS addresses the efforts by heavy industries to decarbonise the production of building materials.  When considering aluminium and concrete, it is clear that the challenges are significant but not insurmountable.

Aluminium has long been considered a ‘green metal’ for, amongst many reasons, the fact that it can be recycled and reused forever.  However, the carbon footprint of its manufacture is significant, and will grow only more so as demand for the material grows.  By utilising renewable energy in the production of aluminium, however, the carbon emissions involved in its manufacture can be markedly reduced, improving its green credentials significantly.

Concrete, the most widely used building material on the planet is responsible for roughly 8% of global CO₂ emissions.  There are various research and development projects occurring around the world with the aim of cutting concrete’s emissions, including new ways of powering cement manufacturing plants including green hydrogen and plasma torches.  In addition, carbon capture usage and storage technology is also being used by some firms to reduce carbon emissions.

The use of electric vehicles is also high on the net-zero agenda. In partnership with Volvo, Skanska is working with Electric Site, a research project in Sweden that aims to make quarry production smarter, greener, and safer.  The aim of the partnership is to create the world’s first emissions-free quarry which includes using electric powered, self-driving load carriers.

Managing the use of materials is also key to achieving sustainability in construction.  Creating a circular economy, the effective use of Bills of Quantities to reduce waste on site, and the use of BIM to improve productivity and resource management throughout the lifespan of a project are all options that we discuss in our previous blog, Tackling Sustainability in Construction.

Whilst there is no doubt achieving net-zero by 2050 will require significant transformation and change within the industry, it is clear that the innovation, motivation, and support exist in order to make it happen, and the gains will be life changing.

 

To discuss any of the issues raised in this article or to find out more about our Bills of Quantities service, contact andrewgallacher@sobencc.com