- Project plans
- Project activities
- Legislation and standards
- Industry context
- Specialist wikis
Last edited 08 Mar 2022
Carbon emissions in the built environment
The term ‘carbon emissions’ refers to the release into the atmosphere of carbon dioxide (CO2).
Carbon dioxide is a naturally-occurring colourless and odourless gas that is integral to life. It is also a greenhouse gas and the burning of carbon-based fossil fuels means there is more carbon carbon dioxide in the atmosphere leading to increased rates of climate change.
Carbon-based fuels that release carbon dioxide when burned include timber, coal, gas, oil, petrol, diesel and so on.
The amount of carbon released by a particular event, person, building or thing is typically referred to as its ‘carbon footprint’, and is measured in tonnes of CO2. On a individual level, the main contributors to a carbon footprint include the amount of type of energy that is used to heat the home, the use of electrical appliances, type of transport, amount of air travel, and so on.
The Building Regulations set out requirements for specific aspects of building design and construction. Regulation 26 of the building regulations states that 'where a building is erected, it shall not exceed the target CO2 emission rate for the building…'.
The target CO2 emission rate (TER) sets a minimum allowable standard for the energy performance of a building and is defined by the annual CO2 emissions of a notional building of same type, size and shape to the proposed building. TER is expressed in annual kg of CO2 per sq. m.
Energy performance certificates (EPCs), set out the energy efficiency rating of buildings. They are required when buildings are built, sold or rented, if they have a roof and walls and use energy to condition an indoor climate.
The establishment of the Climate Change Act 2008 committed the UK to reducing greenhouse gases by at least 80% by 2050 (compared to the 1990 baseline), with a reduction of at least 34% by 2020. A strategy for how this was to be achieved was set out in The Carbon Plan published in December 2011.
The commitment to reducing carbon emissions is a considerable, and often controversial, factor in the development of major infrastructure projects such as the third runway at Heathrow Airport, with activists arguing that its construction will tie the UK into an increased rate of emissions for many years.
In December 2006, the then Labour government committed that from 2016 all new homes would be ‘zero carbon’ and introduced the Code for Sustainable Homes, against which the sustainability of new homes could be rated. However, on 10 July 2015, the government published ‘Fixing the foundations: creating a more prosperous nation’ which made the surprising decision to scrap the zero carbon homes initiative.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings
- Carbon capture and storage.
- Carbon capture processes.
- Carbon dioxide.
- Carbon dioxide equivalent.
- Carbon emissions reduction target CERT.
- Carbon factor.
- Carbon footprint.
- Carbon negative.
- Carbon neutral.
- Carbon Plan.
- Carbon ratings for buildings.
- Consumption emissions.
- Emission factor.
- Fugitive emissions.
- Greenhouse gases.
- Net zero carbon building.
- Operational emissions.
- Process carbon dioxide emissions.
- Reducing UK emissions: 2018 Progress Report to Parliament.
- Residual emissions.
- Target emission rate.
- The Carbon Project: improving carbon emission data.
- Upfront emissions.
- Zero net regulated carbon emissions.
Featured articles and news
What to do with troublesome statues?
A tricky political issue.
Designing Buildings content from and for its users
Discover more on how simple and quick it is to publish an article.
Recent users articles; Timber and retrofit
Which products, for what reasons.
Recent users articles; Digitally Built Britain
ISO 19650, BIM and data management.
Recent users articles; Interim valuations and payments
Applications, notices ad points to remember.
Recent users articles; What is H-Scaffolding?
Elements, features and areas of use.
Recent users articles; what are NZEBs ?
How do they contribute to Sustainable Development.
The most viewed articles in 2022 on Designing Buildings
Written in the past 6 months, one year and beyond.
Second stairs for new tower blocks
Government launches a 12-week consultation
Happy Festive Holidays to all our users from here at DB
On the first day of Christmas DB for the Industry...
The psychological power of the built environment.
IHBC signpost update from Lords Committee on climate
Government must support behaviour change to meet targets.
Reflecting on 2022 into 2023 with the APM WiPM SIG
Women in Project Management conference 2022.
Types, colours and processing of hydrogen on DB
Grey, green, purple, blue, yellow, turquoise, brown and black.
The Kyoto Protocol a brief reminder on DB
Adopted in 1997, ratified in 2005..
Europe moves to phase out electrical SF6 gas
Sulphur hexafluoride the world’s most potent GHG.
Biomass boiler market on the rise in Europe
Proving to be a driver for decarbonisation targets.