Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to the newest version of your browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of Construction News, please enable cookies in your browser.

Welcome to the Construction News site. As we have relaunched, you will have to sign in once now and agree for us to use cookies, so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Stop gassing and save the planet

AGENDA - The UK should lead on climate change, writes Gerry McCaughey

BEFORE the G8 meetings in July, Prime Minister Tony Blair said he was committed to putting climate change at the top of the discussion agenda. But both Live8 and the London bombings diverted attention away from this topic, so once again a significant opportunity to tackle the issue was lost.

But we simply can't allow this 'put it off until next time' attitude to prevail because, unlike starvation in Africa or terrorist attacks on Western cities, climate change has the power to destroy all of our lives.

Unless the world wakes up to the problem, future generations will be puzzled as to why we failed to grasp the urgency of CO 2 pollution and climate change and will be furious at the environmental calamity we bequeathed to them. In particular, they will feel we were given plenty of warning signs of the stress our lifestyle was putting on the ecosystem.

Part of the problem is the widespread belief that the effects of climate change and CO 2 pollution are a gradual, incremental process which allows us a long time to get round to dealing with it. This could turn out to be a tragic delusion.

But even in the short term there are serious financial penalties on the horizon for the production of excessive greenhouse gases. If the amount of CO 2 emissions produced in the UK by 2010 is greater than 20 per cent of 1990 levels, the country will face a potential multi-billion pound EU fine. It is a hefty burden that will fall on the shoulders of every taxpayer.

While road and air traffic are commonly blamed for excessive CO 2 emissions, houses and house building are also responsible for energy abuse on a massive scale. In the UK, 50 per cent of all of the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that cause global warming produced stem from the construction industry and the heating of inefficient buildings.

In the UK, building methods and materials need to change in order to combat global warming, and the UK government's much-heralded housing programme needs to be firmly in line with its environmental policies.

Using a different kind of light bulb or installing roof insulation is no longer enough. We need fundamental action on a nationwide scale and the construction industry is an obvious target for this action. The UK government needs to be proactive in encouraging the widespread adoption of modern methods of construction so that all new homes are more energy-efficient. For instance, because timber frame houses are precision-engineered offsite, they don't suffer from energy leakage in the way that traditional houses do, making them much cheaper to heat, and significantly reducing CO 2 emissions.

But 90 per cent of new houses in England are still built using traditional bricks and mortar construction methods ? and for every tonne of cement produced to build a house from bricks and mortar, one tonne of CO 2 is released into the atmosphere. We simply cannot go on building like this, especially as there are better, more energy-efficient, environmentally friendly and quicker ways to build.

It is still proving to be a major struggle to coax the leaders of the world's richest and most CO 2-polluting economies, particularly the USA, to change their policies on global warming. While the G8 summit was a missed opportunity, Mr Blair needs to continue in his efforts to make his fellow leaders face up to some crucial facts: climate change is a problem, human activity contributes heavily to it, and it is a matter of urgency.