Why Building Regulations Must Incorporate Embodied Carbon

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By Harpa Birgisdóttir (Aalborg University Copenhagen, DK)

Building regulations are important drivers for change. They have been focused on reducing the operational energy in buildings. This is now changing in some countries as evidence shows the significant amount of embodied emissions in construction materials. Additional new requirements are setting targets for embodied carbon in buildings and whole-life carbon assessments in order to decarbonise the built environment. Regulations are being implemented in Netherlands, France and Denmark, and planned in Finland and Sweden.

Globally, the building and construction sector is responsible for approximately 38% of all energy-related GHG emissions. Approximately 28% comes from operational energy use for the total existing building stock and another 10% comes from embodied carbon in materials for new construction and refurbishment (UNEP 2020). New annual construction only adds to a few percentage points of the existing building stock’s total area. However, their share (and that of building refurbishments) of the embodied impacts related to construction of building materials is significant.

Energy requirements have been an essential and accepted part of building regulations in many countries for years. However, regulating energy and carbon in the operational aspect of buildings is not sufficient to create a net-zero society.  Evidence from whole-life cycle carbon assessments of buildings shows increased importance of embodied carbon in building materials and components.  In order to reduce the embodied carbon in materials, new requirements need to be introduced with limit values based on whole-life carbon assessments.

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