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Carbon management in buildings is central to a low carbon economy

Rohinton Emmanuel, author of Carbon Management in the Built Environment, has written an article for our November 2012 Building and Construction Newsletter, looking at the importance of carbon management in buildings for a low carbon economy and sustainable future.

The increasing frequency of extreme weather events makes it ever harder to ignore the link between human activity and climate change and points to the urgent need to shift to a low carbon economy, and fundamental to this will be decarbonising our built environment. 30-40% of the total energy use occurs in buildings, but the wider ‘built environment’ (i.e. towns and cities) is responsible for up to 90% of the total global energy consumption. Thus, built environment is critical to both sustainability and the management of carbon in the economy. Improving the energy performance of buildings (especially housing) contributes to sustainable development, especially for the poor; whilst the state of technology in the built environment provides a quick-win for the world to achieve a low carbon (and therefore sustainable) future.

Carbon management practices need to focus on four key aspects of the built environment: new build; existing stock; cities; and, operational / embodied carbon in buildings. Together with low / zero carbon energy generation, the built environment could help us meet both the legal targets for a low carbon economy as well as do our share to tackle the increasing climate change problem. In short, the solution is to ‘want less, make less’ - i.e. reduce overall energy demand, improve energy efficiency, and drastically expand renewable generation at both macro and micro-scales.

A new book, Carbon Management in the Built Environment provides a comprehensive overview of all four major aspects of carbon management in the built environment. Strategies for new buildings are presented in the context of climate-sensitive design for regions across the world. Existing stock remains a key focus of the book, with strategies specific to the climatic contexts of existing stock as well as non-climate specific solutions. Options for cities are explored in great detail, along with the developmental contexts of cities, by way of case studies from around the world.

While the goal of a low carbon economy seems clear enough, implementation problems remain. Incremental changes to building regulations and standards are making new buildings increasingly carbon efficient, but whilst energy demand continues to rise, the energy consumption from existing stock remains hugely problematic. Opportunities to rectify the situation are repeatedly being missed. A case in point is the lack of inclusion of ‘consequential improvements’ in changes to the building regulations in the UK (’s-u-turn-cuts-green-deal-take-up-by-22m-homes/5042591.article). The book highlights best practices in this regard (including the world leading RECO regulations of California – Chapter 9). The particular problem of older stocks (the so-called ‘hard-to-treat’ properties) are also highlighted (Chapter 6).


About the Author
Rohinton Emmanuel is a Reader in Sustainable Design and Construction, and the Director of the Centre for Energy and the Built Environment at Glasgow Caledonian University, UK. He has pioneered the inquiry of urban climate change in warm regions and has taught and consulted on subjects including climate and environment sensitive design, building energy efficiency, and thermal comfort. He has authored over 50 research papers in the areas of climate change in the built environment, building and urban energy efficiency and thermal comfort and a book related to these efforts,
An Urban Approach to Climate Sensitive Design: Strategies for the Tropics, was published by Routledge in 2005.

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