The buildings and construction sector is by far the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, accounting for a staggering 37% of global emissions. The production and use of materials such as cement, steel, and aluminum have a significant carbon footprint.
Historically, much of the sector’s progress has centered around reducing the “operational” carbon emissions of buildings – those emissions stemming from heating, cooling, and lighting. Projections suggest that these operational emissions will decrease from 75% to 50% of the sector’s total emissions in the coming decades.
However, solutions to mitigate the buildings “embodied” carbon emissions – originating from the design, production, and deployment of materials such as cement, steel, and aluminum – have lagged. To effectively address this challenge, international action and collaboration must bring together all stakeholders from across the entire lifecycle of the buildings sector, both within informal and formal settings.
Building Materials and the Climate: Constructing a New Future, a report developed by UNEP, Yale Center for Ecosystems + Architecture in the framework of the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (GlobalABC), highlights the pressing need to establish innovative cooperation models to decarbonize building materials. These models are critical if we are to achieve the world’s ambitious target of net zero emissions from the built environment sector by mid-century.
The report also pinpoints three overarching strategies which need to be implemented together to decarbonize building materials:
- Avoid unnecessary extraction and production.
- Shift to regenerative materials.
- Improve decarbonization of conventional materials.
By implementing these strategies jointly, we can pave the way for a greener, more sustainable built environment, aligning with our global climate objectives.