Implications of Legislation

Our Environment > Implications of Legislation

Adapting construction to a changing climate

Climate change is no longer an argument, it’s a reality. As the planet warms, countries around the world are striving to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, put sustainability at the heart of policy and prepare for the effects of climate change that will occur over the next 50 years. The UK and Ireland, along with the EU, are helping to lead the way.

The construction industry is on the frontline; nearly half of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions are building related. In light of this, the government has announced that all new homes should be zero carbon by 2016, but there’s still doubt over what constitutes zero carbon and whether zero carbon homes can be achieved. There are also concerns over how to minimise the emissions of the current housing stock.  To this end, project such as Carbon Vision Buildings (CVB) have been set up. CVB started in 2004 with  goals such as;

  • Assembling a comprehensive database on the existing building stock classified according to building type
  • Gathering data on the occupants use of the buildings
  • Undertaking case studies to look at the change in use over time
  • Providing practical demonstrations of energy reduction using exemplar buildings

It’s all new territory but while the finer details may be murky, the general implications of climate change policies for the construction industry are clear. Buildings will have to be sustainable, they may have to adapt to local changes in climate over the coming decades and the industry will have to work at reducing waste and its overall carbon footprint through environmentally sound working practices.


Thinking sustainably will eventually reap rewards, and not just in terms of our survival. Businesses that act now, and get involved with government consultations, will help future-proof themselves against legislation and enable them to cash in on emerging opportunities. Consumers, shareholders and investors are all becoming increasingly aware of climate change issues. In the future, people will be looking for green credentials in the companies they contract or buy from.

The construction industry has a huge role to play in helping communities become sustainable. Right now, it needs to be active and work with governments to help shape future legislation. It’s not sitting idle. In 2006, the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), a leading body for construction managers, called for industry representatives to be on the Committee on Climate Change, named in the UK’s Climate Change Bill.

In 2006, the Construction Industry Council (CIC), which includes the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, National Housing Federation and Royal Institute of British Architects, sent a letter to the Prime Minister welcoming the Climate Change Bill and recognising the construction industry’s role in moving forward to meeting climate change targets.

Legislation may be the stick that beats a path to sustainability, but the carrot to change is the prospect of a low carbon world in tune with a planet that today’s children can inhabit safely.

Energy efficiency and moving away from fossil fuels is a huge part of the sustainable future. Energy regulations have already been implemented through Part L of the Building Regulations Act 2006 – now updated with further guidance which came into effect in 2012 – and the Code for Sustainable Homes (CSH).

As policies evolve and local authorities begin to think green, developers will be increasingly expected to put forward sustainable planning proposals that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, it’s likely to become a stipulation for achieving planning permissions. Developers will need to consider not just the designs of their buildings, but the proximity of transport links, the use of renewables, the use of community space, and the quality and sustainability of the raw materials used in construction.

Slowly but surely, the economics of building sustainably are changing. The UK government has introduced fiscal measures to stimulate climate friendly behaviour in business and try to even up the costs between green and traditional building.  These include the landfill tax, climate change levy and aggregate levy. Additionally, carbon trading is likely to become more significant. DEFRA is consulting right now on the possibility of implementing the Energy Performance Commitment (EPC). This could lead to carbon trading for many more organisations than are currently in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS).  Additionally, in 2010 the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC)  Energy Saving Scheme was put in place, targeting emissions from large public and private sector organisations by means of incentives. The CRC Energy Saving Scheme was set up to reduce emissions that were not covered by the EU ETS.  The scheme has since undergone a few consultations to simplify it, the latest coming into effect in May of 2013 and is enforced by the Department of the Environment.

In addition to energy efficiencies and reducing carbon emissions, the construction industry will have to learn how to adapt to the changes sparked by climate change in the next 50 years. Rising sea levels and increased rain fall may prompt greater incidences of flooding affecting the types of buildings that we build and where we build them. Warmer winters may reduce the demand for heating in the home. The exact changes that climate change will bring are still unknown and being debated.