In October 2020, the Government responded to the Committee on Climate Change’s 2020 Progress Report which had recommended to Government, in relation to embodied carbon in buildings, that the Government, “support the assessment and benchmarking of whole-life carbon in buildings.” The Government responded by saying, “The Government does not currently assess or benchmark the embodied carbon of buildings. To assess the embodied carbon of buildings a simple, standardised method of calculation would be required, supported by a robust evidence base.”
Yet two months later, in December 2020, UK Government has required, through the Construction Playbook, that central government should adopt the use of whole life carbon assessments for all public works projects and programmes, including building, civil engineering, construction and equipment projects. This is mandatory on a ‘comply or explain’ basis for all contracting authorities within central government departments (such as the Ministry of Defence), and its arm’s length bodies such as their agencies (e.g. the Highways Agency, Environment Agency, Homes England, HM Prisons and HM Courts), and public bodies, and this will be enforced through spending controls. The wider public sector is also encouraged to take account of the Construction Playbook. A list of all the bodies affected is provided here.
The playbook requires that:
- “All contracting authorities should set out strategies and plans for achieving net zero GHG emissions by or ahead of 2050 for their entire estate/infrastructure portfolio. These should be aligned under an overarching sustainability framework, and systems and processes should be in place to ensure their projects and programmes deliver on the targets set.”
- “Recognising the design life of public works, contracting authorities should adopt the use of whole life carbon assessments to understand and minimise the GHG emissions footprint of projects and programmes throughout their lifecycle.”
- “Contracting authorities should require that solutions put forward by potential suppliers are accompanied by a whole life carbon assessment. This should be conducted in collaboration with the wider supply chain, reflecting ways of minimising the GHG emissions across the life of the asset.”
- “Whole life carbon assessments are expected to mature over time with higher-level assessments at the early engagement phase developing into robust assessments included in the final tender documentation.”
For central government, compliance to the Construction Playbook is being driven through departments’ governance processes, central Cabinet Office controls (projects over £10 million per transaction) and the Treasury Approvals Process. The Cabinet Office Sourcing Programme will work with in-scope organisations to embed the Construction Playbook within local governance forums and approval processes.
Whole Life Carbon is described in the RICS Professional Statement for Whole Life Carbon Assessment for the Built Environment, as the operational carbon and embodied carbon emissions over a project’s expected life cycle. So by requiring Whole Life Carbon assessments, the Government are requiring Embodied Carbon assessments. The RICS Professional Statement on Whole Life Carbon is aligned to EN 15978, though only measuring carbon, and provides the default methodology for whole life carbon assessment in the UK, endorsed by the RIBA, CIBSE, IStructE and many other organisations. It has also been used as the basis of the Greater London Authority’s requirement of embodied carbon assessment and reporting for all referable schemes as part of the New London Plan.