RIBA: demolitions should be stopped to lower emissions

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has advocated halting demolition in order to lower carbon emissions and help the UK reach its net-zero targets by 2050. Buildings should be preserved and re-purposed and materials should be salvaged and re-used whenever possible, instead of taking them to landfill, RIBA said.

Every year 50,000 buildings are demolished in the UK, producing 126 million tonnes of waste, which represent two-thirds of the UK’s total waste. Building and construction account for 40% of carbon emissions.

Simon Allford.

RIBA argues that there should be a presumption against demolition and that developers should be more considerate and should be obliged to refurbish.

As the UK Government prepares to publish its Zero Carbon Building Strategy, the institute is asking that it should force firms to calculate the total carbon impact of each project.

The issue of embedded carbon has been ignored until recently, but now existing buildings should be seen as “energy that needs to be used” and recycled, according to Simon Allford, president-elect, RIBA. Developers should be encouraged, if not forced, to refurbish existing buildings.

Taxation can also be a powerful incentive. At present, new construction is VAT-exempt in the UK, while retrofitting is not. Allford argues that it should be turned around, in order to encourage the repurposing of buildings while penalising demolition.

RIBA joins RICS to develop international carbon reporting standard

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), in partnership with RIBA and other organisations, is developing the first international standard for reporting carbon emissions across all areas of construction. A universal methodology for calculating carbon emissions will be used to allow decision makers to minimise the carbon footprint of all construction projects.

RICS is also developing a built environment carbon emissions database for logging the climate impact of all construction projects in the UK, which will give an indication of how much carbon has been emitted during the manufacturing and construction process, along with future maintenance, energy use and demolition.

The Built Environment Summit, organised by RIBA, will take place in London in October before Cop-26, the UN Climate Change conference taking place in Glasgow in early November.

“The aim of the summit is to embolden governments to support and work with the international built environment industry to decarbonise construction,” said RIBA. “We cannot meet the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degrees Celsius limit above pre-industrial levels without making substantial changes to the way we design, build, operate and adapt our built environment.”