Construction emissions rates hit new high

AdobeStock 209466807According to the UNEP-hosted Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (GlobalABC) the sector’s energy consumption and CO2 emissions have rebounded from the Covid-19 pandemic to an all-time high despite an increase in energy efficiency investment

GlobalABC’s 2022 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction, released at COP27, finds that the sector accounted for more than 34% of energy demand and around 37% of energy and process-related CO2 emissions in 2021. Operational energy-related CO2 emissions reached 10 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent – 5 % more than 2020 levels and 2% more than the pre-pandemic peak in 2019. In 2021, operational energy demand for heating, cooling, lighting and equipment in buildings increased by around 4% from 2020 and 3% from 2019.

This means that the gap between the climate performance of the sector and the 2050 decarbonisation pathway is widening.

“Years of warnings about the impacts of climate change have become a reality,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). “If we do not rapidly cut emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, we will be in deeper trouble.

"The buildings sector represents 40% of Europe’s energy demand, 80% of it from fossil fuels. This makes the sector an area for immediate action, investment, and policies to promote short and long-term energy security.”

To reduce overall emissions, the sector must improve building energy performance, decrease building materials’ carbon footprint, multiply policy commitments alongside action and increase investment in energy efficiency.

On a positive note, the report shows that the sector can still change. For example, rising fossil fuel costs due to the war in Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis are providing incentives to invest in energy efficiency – although the erosion of purchasing power and the impact of labour and materials may slow investment. 

“The solution may lie in governments directing relief towards low and zero-carbon building investment activities through financial and non-financial incentives,” continued Andersen.

Also critical to reducing the sector’s emissions are including buildings in climate pledges under the Paris Agreement – known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – and mandatory building energy codes.

More progress can be made through the use of alternative materials and decarbonising conventional materials such as cement. With the African population expected to reach 2.4 billion in 2050 alongside an estimated 70% of the continent’s building stock by 2040 yet to be built, there is a particular focus on the region. 

To avoid increasing emissions while building the stock necessary to move people out of informal settlements, and to create buildings that are resilient to the impacts of climate change, the report notes that the African sector should look at sustainable construction materials and design techniques. Africa is also rich in renewable energy sources, solar and wind, which nations can use to power their buildings sustainably.

Find the report in full with its key recommendations here.

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