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Building sector emissions are on the rise

According to a new report published by United Nations’ Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction, the economic consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic caused CO2 emissions from buildings and construction to decrease significantly in 2020. However, the pandemic recovery spending has not sufficiently prioritized climate friendly approaches that would help decarbonize the building sector and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions in the future. 

Recent decades witnessed a large growth in the buildings sector, which caused a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions. According to the UN report, this sector accounted for 37 percent of energy-related CO2 emissions in 2020. 

While the 2020 level of emissions was ten percent lower than in 2015, experts claim that the reduction was temporary and was associated with pandemic-related lockdowns, slower economies, and less construction activity. Unfortunately, the emission levels have already started to increase again in 2021 with the relaxation of restrictions.

“This year showed that climate change is an immediate direct threat to every community on this planet, and it is only going to intensify,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme.

“The buildings and construction sector, as a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, must urgently be decarbonized through a triple strategy of reducing energy demand, decarbonizing the power supply, and addressing building materials’ carbon footprint, if we are to have any chance of meeting the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C.”

In order to achieve the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, the International Energy Agency claims that direct building CO2 emissions need to decrease by 50 percent, and that indirect building sector emissions will have to be reduced by 60 percent. 

To reach this goal, increased efforts should be put in decarbonizing buildings while increasing their resilience. Governments should commit to further decarbonize the power, heating, and cooling energy supply, while investment in building efficiency should steadily rise and expand beyond direct government investment to private investors. 

Furthermore, the scope and coverage of building energy codes related to design, heating, cooling, ventilation system, and appliances, also needs to increase. Finally, the interventions to reduce the climate impact of existing buildings should be combined with investments in adaptation and resilience measures. 

Without taking all these factors into account, emissions related to buildings and construction activity will continue to rise and contribute to dangerous climate change.  

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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