Why is the RIBA's 2030 Climate Challenge important? The UK built environment is responsible for 40% of UK carbon emissions. Everyone within the construction industry's supply chain (from designers to manufactures to contractors) of new and retrofit buildings needs to do their part to reduce carbon emissions to ensure that we can collectively put forward our best efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Originally launched in the autumn of 2019, only a few months after the Institute declared a climate and biodiversity crisis and the UK Government passed legislation for the UK to become a net zero emitter by 2050, the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge is a voluntary framework of performance targets for built environment projects. It builds on the momentum of the RIBA's Ethics and Sustainable Development Commission and the RIBA's commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
It sets out a climate conscious trajectory for new build and major retrofit projects, providing ambitious but achievable forward-facing performance outcomes that have been developed in consultation with other professional UK construction bodies. The framework is built around three key criteria: operational energy, embodied carbon and (potable) water use that are to be achieved in occupied buildings. In doing so, unintended consequences of poor health and wellbeing must be avoided by maintaining the best practice health and wellbeing metrics that are presented in the guidance. Focussing on the three key metrics common to all buildings allows the 2030 Climate Challenge to robustly, yet simply, call all RIBA Chartered Practices to act now.
The relaunch of the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge (Version 2 published 17th June 2021) sets out a refined set of these targets. The updated targets take progress in the industry over the past two years into account and are in line with the Future Homes Standard and future regulation. Targets for 2025 and 2030 are set against business-as-usual compliance approaches.
The updated targets encompass development in the industry's knowledge base of performance data– particularly in the embodied carbon field. The refined embodied carbon targets reflect a considerable amount of work across several institutions (including LETI, UKGBC, IStructE, WLCN and the RIBA) over the past few months to align definitions, scopes, targets, and methodologies. This alignment ensures that, as a built environment sector, we speak with one voice.
One may ask why the change in numbers, especially when the embodied carbon figures presented in Version 2 of the Climate Challenge seem easier to those originally published. The reason for this is that embodied carbon benchmarks and data is a developing knowledge area within the construction sector. In addition, the initial (2019) version of the RIBA 2030 Challenge set out total embodied carbon (A1-A5, B1-B5, C1-C4) performance targets. The figures were not directly comparable to the upfront carbon targets published by LETI as they had different scopes. With the release of Version 2 of the RIBA 2030 Challenge the LETI and RIBA embodied carbon figures are aligned. (It is important however to note that whilst the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge targets are performance measures of realised in buildings completed in 2025 and 2030, LETI dates relate to the year of design.)
We recognise that there may need to be further refinement in the coming years as more detailed data and further work in sectoral contributions to carbon emissions in line with science-based targets is undertaken by the industry. But given the urgency for action, there is no time to lose. The next 9 years are critical, however 2030 is not the end of the road. The emissions reduction trajectory must decrease further until 2050. We must not wait for a magic bullet nor must we lose hope. Instead, as an industry we must focus on the immediacy of the coming years and take the steps necessary to meet the 2030 targets, and if that is not immediately possible to (as a minimum) design in accordance with the 2025 performance outcomes. This call to arms is part of the RIBA's commitment to excellence and ethical practice. It is a rallying cry to promote and champion a shift in the industry towards outcome-based approaches to design, which requires placing greater emphasis on approaches that focus on tangible performance outcomes right from the project outset, even prior to briefing. Whilst the role of the architect is central to this focal shift, the role of the client and entire project delivery team is fundamental to enabling the process.
Although currently only RIBA Chartered Practices can sign up to the 2030 Climate Challenge, the targets are open source and available for everyone to use. The RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge does not seek to replace or replicate a building environmental assessment and there is no associated RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge certification procedure. Instead, the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge presents a set of performance outcome targets for projects to aim towards. In fact, there are only has two stipulations of Signatories to the Challenge: the first is to attempt to achieve the targets. (There is no penalty or consequence for projects that miss the Challenge's voluntary performance targets.) The second requirement is to submit anonymised project data to the RIBA. It is in this latter area where manufacturers and contractors can assist, providing and disclosing embodied carbon data to architects and project teams. Data disclosure and breakdowns are key to ensuring reporting is valid and comparable.
Timber will feature significantly in projects seeking to comply with the 2030 Climate Challenge targets and you can support your architectural teams by providing clear breakdowns of your structural systems and products' embodied carbon cost. Furthermore, supporting the 2030 Climate Challenge may thus give you greater insight and clarity into your own environmental and carbon footprint and those of your products and systems you manufacture. Implementing and designing to the 2030 Climate Challenge targets demonstrates leadership ahead of business-as-usual construction and building management approaches. It also allows supply everyone involved to stay abreast of the mega trends of increased societal awareness and accountability and demonstrate responsibility in face of increased customer, consumer, staff and occupier driven expectations for brand credibility.
Join in with the Challenge, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose!
To download the updated RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge, click here