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Sat October 19 2019

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Rallying call issued to cut construction’s carbon emissions

24 Sep Cutting carbon emissions requires dramatic changes in the way buildings are designed, built, used and deconstructed, says a major international report that has been produced with support from companies including Skanska, Multiplex and Heidelberg Cement.

The report, Bringing embodied carbon upfront, has been produced by the World Green Building Council with input from the construction sector. It calls for coordinated action to eliminate both operational and embodied carbon emissions.

It has been published with the support of more than 80 organisations. The target is for buildings and infrastructure around the world to have 40% less embodied carbon emission by 2030, with 100% net-zero emissions buildings by 2050. It proposes the goal alongside solutions to accelerate immediate action across the building and construction sector.  The report has been endorsed by representatives from developers and construction companies, financial institutions, city networks and government as well as industry representatives from industries including concrete, steel and timber. HeidelbergCement, Skanska, Stora Enso, Google and the Finnish government are among those mentioned by the World Green Building Council.

It says that the transition towards mainstream net-zero carbon standards requires immediate action to achieve greater awareness, innovation, improved processes to calculate, track and report embodied carbon, voluntary reduction targets from industry and roll out of new legislation at city, national and regional level. Approaches such as maximising the use of existing assets, promoting renovation instead of demolition and seeking new circular business models that reduce reliance on carbon intensive raw materials are also needed. To kick-start cross-sector collaboration, World Green Building council is calling for new national and sectoral roadmaps to be developed, such as those produced in Finland, Norway and Sweden, with strong support from industry and policymakers.

The report is supported by case studies of existing best practice across the whole breadth of the building industry. For example, Skanska is making strides in enabling projects to be evaluated for full lifecycle impacts. Materials suppliers are also taking steps. HeidelbergCement has committed to developing carbon neutral products by 2050, and India’s Dalmia Bharat Cement is committed to becoming a carbon negative group by 2040.

Skanska president and CEO Anders Danielsson said: “This report sets out bold ambitions for embodied carbon reduction in the built environment which we welcome at Skanska. We recognise our responsibility and see an increased sense of urgency in our work to reduce carbon, which started many years ago. As we move forward, greater transparency on carbon emissions is needed throughout the whole value chain. Tools like the EC3 which we have developed with partners can help with this. But this is not enough, we need our customers to put higher demands on sustainable procurement. It is only then the industry will shift its approach, and we can move towards net zero carbon emissions. This report provides a concise roadmap of what that could entail.

Cities have been instrumental in pushing for new innovations and approaches. Oslo, Norway, has a commitment to fossil free construction sites. Vancouver, Canada, has mandated that embodied carbon be reduced in new buildings by 40% by 2030, as part of its climate emergency response, demonstrating the type of regulatory frameworks that can drive market change.

The report says that, together, building and construction are responsible for 39% of all carbon emissions in the world, says the report, with operational emissions - from energy used to heat, cool and light buildings - accounting for 28%. The remaining 11% comes from embodied carbon emissions, or ‘upfront’ carbon that is associated with materials and construction processes throughout the whole building lifecycle.  Fully decarbonising the sector requires eliminating both operational and embodied carbon emissions.

The report sets out to demystify the challenge of addressing embodied carbon emissions, through breaking down complex terminology and creating a common language to set a consensus-built definition for net zero embodied carbon.

Multiplex executive director Stephen Smith said: “The specific, ambitious and evidence-backed actions being called for from all stakeholders across the value chain will ultimately generate much needed sustainable outcomes for the sector. Embodied carbon is an often overlooked but critical component in the building lifecycle, and must urgently be addressed.”

Research has shown that achieving drastic cuts in all carbon emissions over the next decade is critical to keeping global temperature rise to 1.5°C.  Addressing upfront carbon is therefore crucial to fighting the climate crisis, says the report, as new construction is expected to double the world’s building stock by 2060 causing an increase in the carbon emissions.  Therefore, the new report is calling for coordinated action from across the sector to achieve dramatic change the way buildings are designed, built, used and deconstructed.

The World GBC’s report presents a pathway of actions that designers, investors, manufacturers, government, NGOs and researchers across the whole sector can take to accelerate decarbonisation, address current market barriers and, develop low-carbon alternative solutions for market. However, it warns that change will not happen unless there is a radical shift in how industry works together to enable a market transformation.

World Green Building Council CEO Cristina Gamboa said: “Our new report is a solution focused response to the urgent need to significantly reduce upfront emissions in buildings and construction and demand action across carbon intensive industries and materials. With the support of our global network and the endorsements we have received for the report, we are confident that we can stimulate market demand and facilitate radical whole value chain collaboration that will be truly transformative and benefit both people and planet.

“We will accelerate action to achieve our goal of slashing embodied carbon by 40% by 2030 and securing net zero embodied carbon by 2050, in addition to our net zero operational carbon goals.”

Ramboll group executive director Søren Holm Johansen said: “For years the focus in the building sector has been on reducing the operational energy demand in buildings, but that’s not enough if we are to deliver on the ambitious goals from the Paris Agreement. Almost one third of CO2 emissions from buildings stem from the embodied carbon in materials and the construction process. Designers must create awareness and help buildings owners minimise the carbon footprint across the lifetime of their buildings.

Mahendra Singhi, managing director and CEO of Dalmia Cement (Bharat), said: “The time has come to make informed decisions on sustainable consumption. Choosing a sustainable consumption pattern is akin to buying a health insurance for ourselves and the planet because it leads to a sustainable future for all. I see both purpose and wisdom in manufacturing and buying low carbon footprint products by every single entity/person on this planet to overthrow the business-as-usual and adopt the business-as-unusual.”

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