Traditionally, policy in the EU4 and UK5, for instance, has focused on reducing GHG emissions associated with the energy needed to heat, cool and power a building rather than those associated with its materials and construction. After all, 80% of buildings that will be occupied in 2050 already exist, meaning decarbonising existing stock is a major priority.6
But something of a shift is under way. Some EU countries have moved to address both operational and embodied emissions. For instance, France introduced regulations in January 2022 to reduce emissions from construction materials over the life of the building, including demolition.7 Since the same date, developers in Sweden have had to calculate the embodied carbon of planned buildings before submitting them to the government to receive the final construction permit.8
In the UK, an industry group has proposed Part Z, an amendment to the UK Building Regulations 2010 that would ensure that the embodied carbon of all building projects will be assessed and capped as part of a comprehensive whole-life carbon assessment.9
Meanwhile, several increasingly widely adopted green building certifications, such as BREEAM and LEED, recognise the benefits of life cycle assessments. And it may be that embodied carbon is incorporated into how buildings are assessed under the EU and UK taxonomies of sustainable activities.10
Other regions, notably Asia and North America, are behind Europe on regulating property sector emissions, but there are moves to address the issue. For example, nine cities in the US and three in Asia Pacific and Canada (Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal), respectively, have signed the C40 Net Zero Carbon Buildings pledge.11 It is a commitment to adopt regulations and planning policies to ensure that new buildings are net-zero carbon by 2030 and all buildings by 2050.