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After Brexit and ahead of COP, UK construction must review supply chains

After Brexit and ahead of COP, UK construction must review supply chains

Credit: MPA

Chris Leese, Director of MPA UK Concrete | Mineral Products Association

3 min read Partner content

With Brexit done, many industries including construction are anxious about any future disruption at ports. But there are also pressing environmental and economic reasons to prompt construction to look at supply chains much more deeply, including questioning the carbon impacts of imported materials.

Imported products create transport carbon miles and mean that another country is taking environmental responsibility for what the UK consumes.

It’s a fact that the industry is very reliant on imports of some materials – timber is a case in point, with 68 per cent brought in from overseas largely using carbon intensive sea freight.

Against the backdrop of climate change, the transition to net zero demands a greater understanding of carbon reduction – both in terms of being aware of the whole life performance of materials as well as appreciating how decisions materially impact the energy efficiency of buildings. 

Aligned to this is a need to focus on responsible sourcing and compliance with the Modern Slavery Act. 

Government is expected to set out recommendations for low carbon procurement as part of its Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy.

Potential disruption for imported goods may well be a catalyst for a more thorough review of material supply chains.  Net zero and UK competitiveness are reasons to do this anyway.

It’s critical that this considers the specific material flows that support UK construction and asks all industries for their net zero roadmaps.

The strategy also needs to consider how the UK accounts for and measures net zero, to make sure emissions aren’t just offshored. 

We should take care to avoid a UK net zero response that is based on using imported materials where we don’t count the carbon against our domestic carbon budgets.

We need to achieve net zero by reducing emissions from all of the materials manufactured and used in the UK without the risk of ‘carbon leakage’.

Carbon leakage would not only move production emissions offshore but also investment, jobs and economic value, so it is false accounting to use the import of construction materials to reduce UK emissions yet increase global emissions. It’s also a missed opportunity to develop new, net zero or even negative industries here in the UK.

Concrete is a local material and over 95% of UK concrete is already produced in the UK. We have the potential to be self-sufficient in the manufacture of concrete and cement.

With all of the key raw materials abundantly available, effective regional and national public policy needs to maximise the economic value of these UK resources and retain national control and responsibility over the emissions our society creates.  In doing so we can support jobs and drive economic growth.

Potential disruption for imported goods may well be a catalyst for a more thorough review of material supply chains.  Net zero and UK competitiveness are reasons to do this anyway

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