‘Record’ carbon output for buildings and construction

By Larry Stewart and Andy Brown18 November 2022

Buildings and construction set an unwanted new record in 2021 for carbon output, according to a new report from the UN Environment Programme.

The report revealed that construction activities rebounded in 2021 to pre-pandemic levels in most major economies, alongside more energy-intensive use of buildings as workplaces reopened. More emerging economies also increased their use of fossil fuel gases in buildings. In 2020 emissions from buildings reduced as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Buildings energy demand posted its largest increase in ten years in 2021. As a result, CO2 emissions from buildings operations reached an all-time high, about a 5% increase from 2020 and 2% higher than the peak in 2019.

When adding in CO2 emissions from producing building materials (concrete, steel, aluminium, glass, and bricks), then buildings represented around 37% of global CO2 emissions in 2021.

The UN’s report highlights that some policy progress has been made since 2015 and global energy-efficiency investment has increased about 16%, but greater effort is necessary in the face of increasing square footage of buildings.

As building square footage trends upward, U.N. leaders set goals to halve emissions from the ‘built environment’ by 2030 and for all new buildings to operate with net-zero in carbon by 2050. The targets are needed to ensure global temperatures do not increase more than 1.5 degrees Celsius – beyond that threshold, it is projected that weather disasters will become routine. 

More than 3,000 companies across the world have set or are in the process of committing to an emissions reduction through the Science Based Targets initiative, an institution that created a framework around reduction commitments for businesses, including leading construction OEMs, contractors and engineers. 

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