‘10 gigatonne’ emissions boom leaves construction ‘off track’ for decarbonization by 2050

The global building and construction boom has pushed the sector’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to an all-time high of 10 gigatonnes, meaning that it is now “off track” to meet decarbonization pledges by 2050, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said on Wednesday.

“Years of warnings about the impacts of climate change have become a reality,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP Executive Director. “If we do not rapidly cut emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, we will be in deeper trouble.”

Huge power drain

According to a report from UNEP, more than 34% of global energy demand in 2021 came from the sector, along with around 37% of “energy and process-related” CO2 emissions.

Data crunched for the UNEP publication ahead of COP27 climate talks in Egypt, also found that 2021 CO2 emissions were five per cent higher than in 2020 and two per cent more than the pre-pandemic peak in 2019.

This was despite a 16% investment boost for energy-efficient new-builds, to $237 billion, which UNEP explained had been simply “outpaced” by the growing amount of floor space that is being built.

In 2021, demand for heating, cooling, lighting and equipment in buildings increased by around four per cent from 2020 and three per cent from 2019, UNEP said, indicating that the gap between the sector’s climate performance and the need to decarbonize by 2050 is widening.

Years of warnings about the impacts of climate change have become a reality. If we do not rapidly cut emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, we will be in deeper trouble.

Africa’s rise

From a regional perspective, UNEP noted that Africa is set to see raw resource use double by 2060, with “an estimated 70%” of buildings for 2040 still on the drawing board.

This is in line with estimates that Africa’s population is set to reach 2.4 billion by 2050, 80% living in cities, and the reason why the continent could make use of its renewable energy sources to power its buildings sustainably, UNEP said.

“Steel, concrete and cement (are) already major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions,” the UN agency explained, adding that building materials already account for around nine per cent of energy-derived CO2 emissions on the continent.

European woes

On Europe, UNEP noted that the buildings sector accounted for 40% of Europe’s total energy needs, and that 80% of that came from fossil fuels. “This makes the sector an area for immediate action, investment, and policies to promote short and long-term energy security,” Ms. Andersen said.

To reduce overall emissions, the UN agency explained that the building sector could help by:

  • Improving building energy performance;
  • Decreasing the carbon footprint of building materials;
  • Multiplying policy commitments alongside action, particularly in light of rising fossil fuel costs linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the clear incentives of energy efficiency investment.

Key global trends identified by UNEP indicated that the increase in built floor space between 2015 and 2021 was equivalent to the total land area covered in buildings in Germany, France, Italy and Netherlands. (UN News)

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