United Nations report highlights the urgent need to decarbonise the construction industry

Energy Efficiency, Synergies, Trends

In 2019, emissions from buildings themselves reached their highest level, accounting for 38% of global energy-related CO2 emissions.

The new report published by the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (GlobalABC), led by UN Environment, warns of the urgency to drastically reduce CO2 emissions from buildings. Although the overall energy consumption of these infrastructures remained stable over the past years, due to the direct use of coal, oil and biomass, energy-related greenhouse gases increased in 2019 to 9.95 Gt CO2, 38% more than the previous year.

Ultimately, this rise prevented the sector from being able to support, during this time, the achievement of the objectives established by the Paris Agreement to curb climate change. With this purpose of climate action, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) stresses the need to redirect the sector towards a low-carbon activity, which, according to UNEP, could also generate “significant benefits for economic recovery, and should therefore be a clear priority for all governments”.

“Rising emissions in the buildings and construction sector emphasise the urgent need for a three-pronged strategy to drastically reduce energy demand in buildings, decarbonise the energy sector and implement materials strategies that reduce life-cycle carbon emissions,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP’s executive director.

Objectives to increase sector sustainability

Direct CO2 emissions from buildings must be reduced by 50% by 2030, and indirect emissions from construction by 60%, according to estimates by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

For this challenge to be met by 2050, all actors in the construction value chain must increase by a factor of five their decarbonisation actions and their impact.

The pandemic, an opportunity

In this regard, the pandemic and the recovery plans that will be put in place as a result of this provide the perfect opportunity to push for comprehensive building retrofitting and energy efficiency standards for new construction, with the ultimate aim of rapidly reducing emissions.

The UN report shows that governments’ post-pandemic plans could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 25% by 2030. This would be achieved by systematically including decarbonisation measures in these programmes, increasing retrofitting rates, channelling investment into low-carbon buildings, creating jobs and increasing property values.

In addition, these plans would be a driver of the economy, with the IEA’s Sustainable Recovery Plan estimating that up to 30 manufacturing and construction jobs would be created for every $1 million invested in retrofits or efficiency measures in new construction.