Climate Change and the Construction Industry: Counting down to a national strategy

The Government is getting closer to the publication of a national strategy for responding to climate change.

That strategy is broken into two main parts: a) what will be done to reduce emissions and mitigate climate change; and b) what will be done to adapt and protect the country from changes that have already been set in motion.


The Minister for Climate Change is required to set budgets for the permitted quantity of greenhouse gases for three consecutive periods: 2022-2025, 2026-2030, 2031-2035.  He must also publish an Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP) identifying how the 2022-2025 budget will be met.  The ERP must include specific policies and strategies for five industries: building and construction, transport, waste, agriculture and forestry.

The Minster announced on 15 September 2021 that release of the final ERP would be delayed until May 2022 to allow further time for consultation.  However, the draft plan is due to be released  in October 2021. 

MBIE’s Building for Climate Change programme has developed two emissions mitigation frameworks, which are likely to form the basis for the building and construction strategy in the draft ERP. 

Whole-of-life embodied carbon reduction

Under the first framework, the whole-of-life carbon embodied in a building must be calculated and reported when applying for a building consent.  Data on embodied carbon will be stored in a publicly-available registry.  This information will be used to introduce incremental caps that buildings must meet to obtain a building consent. 

The framework is intended to encourage the design of durable buildings of an efficient size which use low-carbon materials and construction techniques.  The “whole-of-life” assessment takes account of the materials used in the building (how they are extracted, manufactured and transported), the construction process (wasted materials, reliance on cement), the intended use of the building, its maintenance requirements, its design life, and whether its materials can be reused. 

The framework is intended to be introduced in stages.  The initial scope requires an assessment of the embodied carbon in the production and construction phases of new buildings.  Internal fittings, including finishes and building services, are not included.  The framework applies to all buildings, regardless of size or type.  MBIE intends to develop a simplified calculation tool that can be used for small buildings.

Operational efficiency

The second framework will set mandatory caps on operational emissions and water use for all new buildings which must be met when applying for consent and code compliance certificates.  The intent is to ensure that inhabited buildings (including non-residential and commercial buildings) use as little energy and water as possible. 

A focus on thermal and systems efficiency is also expected to improve health outcomes.  Minimum Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) standards will be introduced to regulate air and surface temperatures, humidity, ventilation, exposure to daylight and other measures.


MBIE undertook a public consultation for both frameworks.  The response was generally supportive, although submitters argued the frameworks should apply to renovations and refurbishments as well as new buildings, and the programme should be accelerated.  Submitters identified the need for clear standards, with comprehensive training and education and appropriate regulatory performance requirements. 

It will be interesting to see whether the call for a broader scope and faster programme is reflected in the draft ERP.  MBIE is assessing options for implementation, including legislative changes and other interventions (education, guidance and incentive schemes).  It intends to seek Cabinet agreement to a public consultation on a full package of measures in 2022.


Work is also underway to produce a National Adaptation Plan (NAP), which will set out the Government’s plan to respond to climate risks, including extreme weather events.  The NAP is due to be published in August 2022. 

For the building and construction sector, the plan is expected to focus on two principles. 

The first is that there should be no building in areas likely to be affected by climate-related hazards, which may include low-lying coastal areas or land vulnerable to flooding. 

The second principle is that design standards must take account of expected changes to our climate.

Watch this space

The draft ERP is expected to be released in October 2021.   Hesketh Henry will be reporting on developments affecting our clients in the building and construction sector.

If you have any questions, please get in touch with our construction team or your usual contact at Hesketh Henry.


Disclaimer:  The information contained in this article is current at the date of publishing and is of a general nature.  It should be used as a guide only and not as a substitute for obtaining legal advice.  Specific legal advice should be sought where required.


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Media contact - Kerry Browne
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