Last year saw many extreme climates in the UK: Storm Christoph in January that brought exceptionally wet weather, Storm Darcy that came with bitterly cold winds and snow, unusual warmth at the end of March followed by widespread hard frosts in April, extreme heat warning in July and persistent rain creating floods in many areas in the UK. News about extreme climate is everywhere in the media, and we are told that the UK is not prepared, so what are the impacts on the built environment?
Despite some climate deniers, scientists have long warned that climate change would intensify the frequency and severity of extreme weather. In the construction industry, we focus a lot on aligning our target with the government's commitment to achieving net-zero carbon by 2050. UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) data shows that constructive activities take up about 10% of the country's carbon dioxide emissions. The number rises to 40% when the whole built environment sector is considered.
As a sustainability consultancy in construction, we see the growing demand from our clients on whole-life carbon assessment & energy modelling, corporate sustainability strategies, including carbon accounting, and sustainability plans in healthy building design, construction and operations. Companies in the industry are working hard to reduce their carbon emissions through different dimensions: from selecting building materials (sustainable alternatives or material with low carbon intensity during and post-production stage), consuming clean energy, waste management and circularity of materials, all the way to the design of the building.
Extreme weather strikes us with more issues despite the industry's effort to drive towards a more sustainable environment. It challenges the industry to rethink the building design and materials used in construction. Are the existing materials durable under extreme weather conditions? How do current insulation methods/ materials for retaining heat cope with extreme weather like heat waves? How do extreme weather conditions impact operation on construction sites, such as temperature increase and flooding?
To mitigate the impact of climate emergency, everyone in the industry: designers, developers, contractors, investors and the supply chain, all has a role to play. And most importantly, how we can join forces to do a better job lobbying the government for fundamental policy change to achieve its net-zero emission target by 2050 is also crucial to the construction industry. Regarding a comment by Dieter Helm, an economics professor at Oxford University, back in 2016, government plays an essential role in "bringing together agricultural policy, land use policy, house building and house planning, forestry, etc.," to get the country to prepare for extreme weather. Examples such as the decision on building on flood plains or getting rid of vegetation that otherwise absorbs water for other land use purposes put all the efforts we covered previously in vain.