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What does the UK's Sixth Carbon Budget mean for the built environment?

image showing a modern building

What are Carbon Budgets?

Carbon budgets for the UK set a legally binding restriction on the total amount of greenhouse gases the country can produce over a 5-year period. 

The UK’s carbon budgets are based on the advice of the Climate Change Committee and act as stepping stones towards the government’s overall commitment to reach net zero by 2050.

Set in 2021, the UK’s Sixth Carbon Budget is the most recent and requires carbon emissions to be reduced by 78% by 2035, compared to 1990 levels.

What is the Climate Change Committee’s advice on how the built environment can meet the targets of the Sixth Carbon Budget? 

Of the sector-specific recommendations outlined by the Climate Change Committee, both buildings and construction sectors are addressed separately.

For the buildings sector, the advice to meet the required emissions reductions focuses on reducing operational emissions by lowering energy consumption and improving energy efficiency. 

For the construction sector, suggestions to reduce carbon emissions include: 

  • Increasing resource efficiency - E.g. Transitioning to a more circular economy.
  • Material substitution - E.g. Switching to materials that create less emissions during their production. 
  • Improving energy efficiency - E.g. Making sure energy use during construction processes is not needlessly wasted. 

Government policies to reduce emissions in the built environment  

In 2021, the Net Zero Strategy outlined how the UK Government will meet its carbon budgets, but for the built environment, these plans focus primarily on reducing operational emissions. 

2021 also saw the publication of the Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy, which indicated the government's intention to tackle emissions in the construction sector by initiating research into reporting and assessing embodied carbon. 

However, despite this, as of 2024, there are still no clear regulations in place tackling embodied carbon, and there remains no sufficient industry-wide metrics to assess carbon reduction. 

Existing industry efforts to accelerate emissions reductions in the built environment. 

To fill gaps in government policy and push for increased action on decarbonisation, industry bodies from across the built environment have published their own guidance and frameworks. 

For example: 

The whole life carbon assessment (WLCA) from the RICS has become the world-leading standard for assessing and reporting carbon emissions. 

The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) has developed a roadmap for achieving net-zero embodied carbon in buildings by 2050. 

Government action is fast approaching. 

Based on plans set out in the government's 2021 strategies, research and consultations have been taking place, which will lead to the implementation of policies on the reporting and reduction of carbon emissions in the built environment. 

In 2027, the government will introduce the UK Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism. This will apply charges on the carbon emissions embodied in imported construction products such as cement, iron and steel.

In 2023, the government commissioned research looking into the realities of carrying out whole-life carbon assessments and the methods of reducing embodied carbon across different building types.

How can LCM help 

With both government and industry action ratcheting up around achieving decarbonisation targets, built environment firms need to start planning for the future now. 

Reducing emissions across the entirety of a building project, including the materials and construction phases, is vital to achieving the deep reductions needed to reach the 78% target by 2035. 

At Low Carbon Materials, we are the net zero innovation partner to the construction industry. 

Our flagship product, OSTO®, is a carbon-negative aggregate with broad application potential, including use in concrete mixes, screeds and resin-bound applications. 

OSTO® acts as a 'like for like' replacement for traditional lightweight aggregates, greatly reducing the carbon footprint of projects in which it is used. 

Our decarbonisation solutions are game-changing for such a hard-to-abate sector like the construction industry. 

Reach out to us to find out how we can help you reduce your carbon emissions today.