Representing construction on Centre Court is Bob the Builder at the scoreboard end, and at the grandstand end, representing transport, is Clive the Car.
Serving from the grandstand end, Clive makes his first scorching delivery: "It is buildings that put most carbon dioxide into the atmosphere." The ball bounces firmly into Bob's court.
Bob responds with a strong forehand drive: "But carbon emissions from transport are growing at a far faster rate."
Clive picks himself up: "Compared with new buildings, the miles-per-gallon efficiency of new cars is improving in leaps and bounds."
Bob lobs the ball back: "But this is more than eclipsed by the rapidly increasing number of cars on the road. Added to this, we drive further in them – or rather, sit in them longer in the traffic jams."
Both contestants are fighting to avoid the humiliation of being seen as the ultimate environmental pariah
This match is set to continue with both contestants fighting to avoid the humiliation of being seen as the ultimate environmental pariah. Construction can argue that the new Building Regulations will reduce building carbon emissions, with lower U-values, carbon targets and efficient air-conditioning. But in reality, the regulations only apply to the 1% of new buildings that are built each year. What about the 99% of existing buildings that, emit most of the carbon?
Construction could also argue that the introduction of the Climate Change Levy in April this year – a tax on fuel used by buildings and hence their carbon emissions to the environment – will help correct this situation. The problem is that the levy does not apply to the largest building sector: namely, residential. In any case, it is open to question how effective the levy will be, bearing in mind the limited impact of the 75% petrol tax on fuel consumption. What chance is there for the feeble 15% Climate Change Levy on building energy use?
Car manufacturers, on the other hand, are beginning to get their environmental act together with the production of zero-emission and hybrid vehicles, including electric, gas and fuel cells that convert hydrogen into electricity. But these are zero-emission vehicles only in the locality in which they operate. All they actually do is move the emissions to remote power stations. This could change in the future, though. Petrol filling stations could switch to serving hydrogen extracted from the natural gas main in the street, which could establish a hydrogen economy with no carbon emissions.
Construction could quite rightly argue, however, that it is because of the car that carbon emissions from buildings are increasing. After all, what is the reason we give for demanding high-energy consumption air-conditioning? The need for sealed facades because of outdoor traffic noise and vehicle pollution. Of course, car manufacturers argue that their cars are needed because buildings are located without regard to access and are remote from public transport links.
Meanwhile, back on court, Clive moves in towards the net: "If buildings were all designed and built to consider whole-life issues and environmental impact, as EU legislation requires of car manufacturers, instead of just lowest first cost, then construction could help in reducing overall carbon emissions." The smash flashes past Bob the Builder.
Game to Clive the Car.
This contest is set to run and run – that was but the first game in the championship match. Unless the construction industry takes a far more considered approach to environmental issues, Bob the Builder will find the ensuing battle very difficult.
Chris Twinn is an associate director of multidisciplinary consultant Arup.