Buildings and Construction contribute towards 39% of global carbon emissions.
The embodied carbon of the buildings (the footprint involved in building it) is typically 50% of the whole life emissions of a building. For high-performance low-energy buildings this % figure is higher.
The structure and substructure of a building typically makes up 60-70% of the embodied carbon of a building.
Research has shown that structural engineers want to design economic, efficient buildings. But when they have to make a choice between cost and efficiency, they have to choose the former. A tax on inefficient use of materials would solve this, leading to more efficient structures.
Buildings are being built where the structure only works at 50% of its capacity. That's the equivalent of Airbus releasing a new plane with twice as many wings as is necessary - madness!
The Institution of Structural Engineers has been discussing how we need our members to meet embodied carbon targets that hold the profession accountable. Building Regulation Part L has transformed design over the past decades as it has given energy targets to mechanical and electrical engineers that they must meet to achieve planning. We need the same for structural engineers.
I would call on a Labour government to work with the Institution of Structural Engineers to agree a set of embodied carbon targets for all new build structures in the UK.
The figure could be measured in kg CO2E per square metre gross area, following RICS guidance on carbon estimation, and based on the floor area submitted for planning. The targets would be more stringent for larger commercial projects, and more lax for domestic house building - targeting the large developers whose have large design teams that are ready to optimise their structures and add efficiency.
Exceeding the figure would result in tax being paid to the local authority. And conversely a design that is below the threshold should offer tax breaks as an incentive. Cash generated can be invested in carbon offsetting for the country through reforestation, green energy development, or overseas aid for the same.
Such a tax will lead to clients and developers requiring that their architects and engineers deliver designs that are low carbon, making the UK a world leader in construction once again, and helping the government achieve net carbon zero by 2030.