While housing developers have been praised for demolishing old and energy inefficient buildings so they can be replaced with new, eco-friendly properties, engineers have said that existing buildings should be kept due to the amount of carbon emitted during the manufacture of the original building materials, known as embodied carbon.

The government is developing a new building strategy that will look at the issues of embodied carbon and how to tackle it, according to a government spokesperson, and Lord Callanan said it was ‘one of the areas we want to look at’ at a recent conference, according to City AM.

However, despite the Business minister stating that the government was in the ‘final stages’ of creating a new heat and building strategy, there were no further details about what measures could be included.

The construction industry is a major contributor to carbon emissions, with the manufacture of steel, bricks, and concrete accounting for 8 per cent of global emissions alone.

This has led to climate experts urge government ministers to make it more difficult for developers to demolish buildings without first fully exploring if they can be refurbished and extended.

Lord Deben, the chairman of the government’s advisory climate change committee, said the government had been slow to comprehend and accept the reversal of established thinking, and that ministers had not had ‘the will and the clout to develop these policies’.

He said: “We need to think differently. It’s not acceptable to pull buildings down like this. We have to learn to make do and mend.”

The Conservative peer said that there needed to be a planning law that will stop handing out permissions to developers for demolitions, adding: “We are simply not going to win the battle against climate change unless we fight on every front.”

At the conference organised by Property Week, Lord Callanan said the government was in the final stages of building its Heat and Building Strategy, and that embodied carbon was one of the areas that the government wanted to take a closer look at.

According to experts, a simple step that could be made would be to ensure that companies planning large scale development should calculate the total impact on the climate before any work goes ahead, a step that is already mandatory in several countries.

However, the experts say that the problem is huge but rarely discussed, and the built environment creating 27 per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions. The lack of discussion means that it is unclear just how far ministers will go, mostly because the issue is rather new to Whitehall.

According to engineering firm Arup, around 50 per cent of the whole-life emissions of a building potentially come from the cabin emitted during construction and demolition, and this figure will only increase as buildings implement heating and cooling systems from low-carbon electricity, increasing the burden on the construction process.

The government is already in the middle of an argument about the embodied carbon emissions that will be generated in the construction of a new ‘Justice Quarter’ that combines the courts and police headquarters on Fleet Street in London.

According to The Architects Journal, the £240 million Salisbury Square development involves replacing six historic buildings with three new ones, including a flagship seven-storey court building for Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) and the Ministry of Justice.

The journal has been campaigning on the issue and urged the government to insist that buildings are refurbished rather than demolished, calculating that the difference between old buildings and replacing them amounts to nearly 20,000 tonnes of CO2.

According to the EPA’s greenhouse gas equivalent converter, that equates to around 4,171 passenger cars driven for a year.

The Ministry of Justice – which oversees the Courts and Tribunals Service – told the journal it was a matter for the City of London, as it was developing the site.

A government spokeswoman told BBC News that embodied carbon was ‘an issue and one that we have been working on addressing for some time’.

She insisted that the government was already supporting several construction projects that aim to reduce carbon emissions, improve supply chains, and software for simultaneous cost and carbon modelling, but she declined to offer any further comments in advance of the upcoming heat and buildings strategy.

Julie Hirigoyen, the chief executive of the UK Green Building Council, said it was “very good news that ministers are at last looking at this”.

She told BBC News: “We really must come to grips with the issue of embodied carbon in buildings – we’ll never hit our climate targets unless we do.”

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