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Bureau Veritas urges UK construction firms to accelerate efforts as it strives to decarbonise the built environment in race to net zero

BUREAU Veritas is urging the UK construction industry to accelerate its efforts when it comes to the decarbonisation of buildings following the launch of the UK Green Building Council’s (UKGBC) milestone roadmap for the UK built environment.

The advice came as Cop26 entered its final day and follows the focus on ‘Cities, Regions & Built Environment’ (Thursday 11 November), which saw leaders discuss advancing action in the places we live, from communities through to cities and regions.

Key commitments to come out of discussions at the global climate summit included the launch of an Urban Climate Action Programme (UCAP), a multi-million-pounds fund to help developing cities around the world reduce their emissions and grow sustainably. The UCAP states that decarbonising the world’s urban buildings, which are responsible for about 40% of global emissions, is crucial in combatting climate change.

Also unveiled, albeit on the sidelines of Cop26, was the UKGBC’s Whole Life Carbon Roadmap – a comprehensive tool to help businesses across the built environment sector measure and cut carbon emissions from materials, processes, operation, and demolition by 2050.

According to the roadmap, which includes a whole-life carbon approach – something Bureau Veritas states has been ‘fundamentally lacking’ in the carbon debate on emissions reduction to date – the decarbonisation of our domestic buildings is a key priority in achieving net zero by 2050.

Richard Maggs, head of environment and sustainability at Bureau Veritas, said: ‘While the launch of government’s UCAP is welcomed, we know that maximising output from such programmes is key to industry adoption.

‘There’s no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to decarbonising our cities, regions, and built environment, so the UCAP funding must seek to garner as much transferrable working knowledge across multiple urban areas to ensure that the funding secures the best outcome possible.

‘We’re already aware that the decarbonisation of buildings is absolutely crucial in meeting our net zero targets, and while existing strategies – such as government’s ‘heat and buildings strategy’ – go some way in supporting the intention to decarbonise buildings, it doesn’t go nearly far enough in identifying how this is to be done, or to bridge the gap between practicality and cost; particularly when we consider those buildings that need to be retrofitted to achieve decarbonisation.

‘This is why it’s refreshing to see the UKGBC’s Net Zero Whole Life Carbon Roadmap for the Built Environment, a complete roadmap that includes a whole life carbon approach. The UKGBC’s recommendations for government to publish a National Retrofit Strategy by 2022, which will transform the UK building environment – while phasing out fossil fuel heating – is key in meeting next step targets in the race to net zero, and we fully support its key recommendations to make change happen.’

According to Richard, the UK construction industry – from landowners and developers to occupiers and contractors – all have a role to play when it comes to decarbonising our built environment. ‘There’s a need to act now, and great consideration required on the methods used to decarbonise our built environment. Balanced decision-making isn’t something that’s been widely addressed to date, though this is fundamental when considering how we decarbonise our buildings in the future. For example, insulation is excellent at improving energy efficiency, though we need to make sure it doesn’t negatively impact indoor air quality by reducing ventilation. When, and if, hydrogen-fuelled heating systems become an option, what consideration will be given to oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions to ensure we don’t see widespread increases in levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) that have blighted our cities for years as a result of vehicle emissions?

‘Irrespective of timelines, with the trajectory for meeting net zero and the varying policies and recommendations, the UK construction industry has a critical role to play in achieving the recommendations in the UKGBC’s roadmap, now. Transitioning to a net zero economy is a combined effort that requires short and long-term action, and we’re delighted to see a clear roadmap that supports one of our vital industries to do just that.’
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