construction industry emissions

Global emissions from construction sector soaring post-pandemic

Image credit: Dreamstime

CO2 emissions from the global construction sector have rebounded from the lows seen during the Covid-19 pandemic to sit at an all-time high, a UN report has found.

Despite an increase in energy efficiency investment and lower energy intensity, the sector is still seeing record highs in energy consumption and CO2 emissions.

Energy-related emissions from operations reached ten gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent amounting to about five per cent over 2020 levels and two per cent over the pre-pandemic peak in 2019.

In 2021, operational energy demand for heating, cooling, lighting and equipment in buildings increased by around four per cent from 2020 and three per cent from 2019.

Construction is responsible for a huge amount of emissions globally. In 2018, the buildings and construction sector accounted for 36 per cent of energy use and 39 per cent of energy and process-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. This includes the manufacture of key materials such as steel, cement and glass.

The UN report found 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 per cent of Europe’s energy demand, 80 per cent 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 is obliged to improve building energy performance; decrease building materials’ carbon footprint; multiply policy commitments alongside action, and increase investment in energy efficiency.

Some good news emerged from the report, such as findings that investments in building energy efficiency have gone up by unprecedented levels, rising by 16 per cent in 2021 over 2020 levels to $237bn (£207bn).

However, growth is outpacing efforts on energy efficiency and reducing energy intensity.

The increase in global gross floor area between 2015 and 2021 is the equivalent to the total land area covered in buildings in Germany, France, Italy and Netherlands, if it were all built on one level, at around 24,000sq/km.

The report says that investments in energy efficiency must be sustained in the face of growing crises – such as the war in Ukraine and the ensuing energy crisis, and the cost-of-living crisis – to reduce energy demand, avoiding CO2 emissions and dampen energy cost volatility.

It also suggests that while this year’s crisis’s have provided incentives to invest in energy efficiency – 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,” Andersen added.

E&T recently looked into the concept of ‘net zero’ buildings to ask what this definition really means and how realistic it is to make buildings carbon neutral.

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles