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2023-09-12 | UNEP/GlobalABC
UN plan promises massive emission cuts in the construction sector – the most polluting and toughest to decarbonise

Nairobi, 12 September 2023 – Rapid urbanisation worldwide means every five days, the world adds buildings equivalent to the size of Paris, with the built environment sector already responsible for 37 per cent of global emissions. A report published today by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Yale Center for Ecosystems + Architecture (Yale CEA), under the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (GlobalABC), offers solutions to decarbonize the buildings and construction sector and reduce the waste it generates.

The report, Building materials and the climate: Constructing a new future, offers policy makers, manufacturers, architects, developers, engineers, builders and recyclers a three-pronged solution to reduce “embodied carbon” emissions and the negative impacts on natural ecosystems from the production and deployment of building materials (e.g., cement, steel, aluminium, timber, biomass):

  1. Avoid waste through a circular approach: building less by repurposing existing buildings is the most valuable option, generating 50-75 per cent fewer emissions than new construction; promote construction with less materials and with materials that have a lower carbon footprint and facilitate reuse or recycle.
  2. Shift to ethically and sustainably sourced renewable bio-based building materials, including timber, bamboo, and biomass. The shift towards properly managed bio-based materials could lead to compounded emissions savings in many regions of up to 40 per cent in the sector by 2050. However, more policy and financial support is needed to ensure the widespread adoption of renewable bio-based building materials.
  3. Improve decarbonisation of conventional materials that cannot be replaced. This mainly concerns the processing of concrete, steel, and aluminium – three sectors responsible for 23 per cent of overall global emissions today – as well as glass and bricks. Priorities should be placed on electrifying production with renewable energy sources, increasing the use of reused and recycled materials, and scaling innovative technologies. Transformation of regional markets and building cultures is critical through building codes, certification, labelling, and the education of architects, engineers, and builders on circular practices.

The three-pronged Avoid-Shift-Improve solution needs to be adopted throughout the building process to ensure emissions are slashed and human health and biodiverse ecosystems are protected. The solution also requires, in its implementation, sensitivity to local cultures and climates, including the common perception of concrete and steel as modern materials of choice.

“Until recently, most buildings were constructed using locally sourced earth, stone, timber, and bamboo. Yet modern materials such as concrete and steel often give only the illusion of durability, usually ending up in landfills and contributing to the growing climate crisis,” said Sheila Aggarwal-Khan, Director of UNEP’s Industry and Economy Division.

“Net zero in the building and construction sector is achievable by 2050, as long as governments put in place the right policy, incentives and regulation to bring a shift the industry action,” she added.

To date, most climate action in the building sector has been dedicated to effectively reducing “operational carbon” emissions, which encompass heating, cooling, and lighting. Thanks to the growing worldwide decarbonisation of the electrical grid and the use renewable energies, these are set to decrease from 75 per cent to 50 per cent of the sector in coming decades.

Since buildings contain materials produced in disparate regions across the globe, reducing “embodied carbon” emissions from production and deployment of building materials requires decisionmakers to adopt a whole life-cycle approach. This involves harmonized measures across multiple sectors and at each stage of the building lifecycle – from extraction to processing, installation, use, and demolition.

Government regulation and enforcement is also required across all phases of the building life cycle – from extraction through end-of-use – to ensure transparency in labelling, effective international building codes, and certification schemes. Investments in research and development of nascent technologies, as well as training of stakeholders in the sectors, are needed, along with incentives for cooperative ownership models between producers, builders, owners, and occupants to the shift to circular economies.

“The decarbonisation of the buildings and construction sector is essential for the achievement of the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C. By providing cutting-edge scientific insights as well as very practical recommendations to reduce embodied carbon, the study ”Building materials and the climate: Constructing a new future” advances our joint mission to decarbonise the sector holistically and increase its resilience”, said Dr. Vera Rodenhoff, Deputy Director General for International Climate Action and International Energy Transition of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK), which together with the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) has funded the study.

Case studies from Canada, Finland, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Peru, and Senegal, demonstrate how decarbonisation takes places using “Avoid-Shift-Improve” strategies: developed economies can devote resources to renovating existing ageing buildings, while emerging ones can leapfrog carbon-intensive building methods to alternative low-carbon building materials.

Cities worldwide can drive the implementation of decarbonisation. Many are already integrating vegetated surfaces, including green roofs, façades, and indoor wall assemblies to reduce urban carbon emissions and cool off buildings, increase urban biodiversity and more.



About the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)

UNEP is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations. 

About the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (GlobalABC)

Founded at COP21, hosted by UNEP and with 289 members, including 40 countries, the GlobalABC is the leading global platform for all buildings stakeholders committed to a common vision: A zero-emission, efficient and resilient buildings and construction sector.

About Yale Center for Ecosystems + Architecture (Yale CEA)

Yale CEA unites researchers and practitioners across multiple fields, synthesising innovations in science, art and humanities towards ecosystems that prioritise the requirements of living organisms and ecologies. Our mission is to transform the DNA of the Built Environment, which is currently the sector responsible for the largest real-time climate change impacts and the consumption/production of toxic, non-renewable resources.

For more information, please contact: 

News and Media Unit, UN Environment Programme

Read the press release in other UN languages 

2022-11-09 |
2022 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction (2022 Buildings-GSR)

Nairobi, 9 November 2022 – Despite an increase in energy efficiency investment and lower energy intensity, the building and construction sector’s energy consumption and CO2 emissions have rebounded from the COVID-19 pandemic to an all-time high, a new report finds.

Released during the latest round of climate talks in Egypt, known as COP27, the 2022 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction finds that the sector accounted for over 34 per cent of energy demand and around 37 per cent of energy and process-related CO2 emissions in 2021.

The sector’s operational energy-related CO2 emissions reached ten gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent – 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.

This, according to the report from the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (GlobalABC), means that the gap between the climate performance of the sector and the 2050 decarbonization 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”

Decarbonizing the buildings sector by 2050 is critical to delivering these cuts. To reduce overall emissions, the sector must improve building energy performance, decrease building materials’ carbon footprint, multiply policy commitments alongside action and increase investment in energy efficiency.

Read the full press release here

2022-03-23 | 10 Billion Solutions, GlobalABC
GlobalABC to lead ambitious country action for buildings decarbonization and resilience ahead of critical COP27

Paris, 22 March 2022 — Buildings and construction are responsible for almost 40% of global energy-related CO2 emissions - the equivalent of 14 gigatons of CO2 per year. Bringing together all actors in the large and fragmented buildings sector and accelerating emissions reductions and resilience is the goal of the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction, a global platform of governments, experts, private sector, NGOs, and intergovernmental organizations that met from 7 to 9 March in Nice, France. 

The Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (GlobalABC) held its 2022 Annual Assembly on 7-9 March and its members approved the organization’s results framework, annual work plan and budget, and elected the new Steering Committee. The decisions taken are critical to strengthen deep collaboration among all stakeholders and build momentum towards the UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Egypt to realize the potential for building decarbonization outlined at COP26. 

For the first time, the Assembly was conducted in an innovative and fully hybrid format that allowed large participation of over 150 member organizations. Dozens of experts and representatives from all regions connected and participated on-line, while around 50 members and high-level speakers participated in-person. 

GlobalABC members analyzed how to create a platform for countries to engage in setting an ambitious action agenda towards a fully decarbonized and resilient buildings sector, in the run up to COP27. National governments play a critical role to forge a common vision and rally all stakeholders to achieve it. 

In the presence of the High-Level Climate Action Champion of Egypt for COP27, Dr. Mahmoud Mohieldin, several countries, including Denmark, France and Morocco, showed the way forward and shared best practice examples. Delegates in Nice and online agreed to offer the GlobalABC platform to showcase and promote country commitments and action towards COP27 and beyond.   

Photos of the Annual Assembly are available here.

Download the full press release in English and French.

2021-11-11 | GlobalABC, RMI, UK BEIS, Scottish Government
Nations Launch Clean Heat Forum

Glasgow, 11 November 2021 — Today a group of nations, companies, and organizations announced the launch of a global collaborative effort to accelerate the adoption of clean heating solutions for buildings. The Clean Heat Forum will be launched under the UNEP-hosted Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (GlobalABC), a global platform with over 200 members, including 34 countries. The platform unites all stakeholders along the buildings and construction value chain towards a zero-emission, efficient, and resilient buildings and construction sector. The GlobalABC is the home for international action on building decarbonization and resilience. Heating with fossil fuels is responsible for a large share of direct greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, which in turn accounts for around 9% of global energy-related emissions.

While we have clean heating solutions – like highly efficient heat pumps, district energy solutions, deep retrofits, and better building design – at our fingertips, adoption has lagged and these solutions remain inaccessible to many. By bringing public and private sector leaders together, the Clean Heat Forum will fill a critical gap, enabling participants to co-create and share best practice policies, standards, and public engagement strategies to reduce one of the largest sources of climate-disrupting air pollution. Accelerated deployment of efficient and clean heating technologies, appropriate building design, and associated solutions will also help reduce health and energy burdens, increasing prosperity and creating more employment.

Download the full press release here.

2021-11-11 |
Accelerating deep collaboration: 26 built environment climate action initiatives announced at COP26

Glasgow, 11 November 2021  Marking a climate breakthrough for the built environment, a coalition of business and government groups announce 26 climate action initiatives at Cities, Regions and Built Environment Day at COP26, including:

• $1.2 trillion real estate assets under management are now a part of Race to Zero.

As a front runner initiative in the Race to Zero, 42 businesses including developers, designers and asset managers representing $60 billion annual turnover sign World Green Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment to accelerate action to tackle whole life carbon emissions from the built environment by 2030. 

Responsible for almost 40 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, the built environment is fast becoming a driving force behind global climate change mitigation efforts.

• 1049 cities and local governments have joined Race to Zero.

Representing 722 million people, this collective action has the potential to reduce global emissions by 1.4 gigatons annually by 2030. C40 Cities has launched a new Clean Construction Action Coalition of cities and construction sector companies today to connect and accelerate the just and fair change we need.

• Since 2015, 136 countries have included buildings in their Nationally Determined Contributions, an increase of around 55 percent; and 12 countries have made building decarbonisation commitments since 2018 — UK, Morocco, Mexico, France, Germany, Switzerland, Jordan, Chile, Kenya, Turkey, UAE, and Argentina.

This is a significant step in the right direction to decarbonise economies as 65 percent of population growth by 2030 will occur in countries that have NDCs that mention building energy efficiency and/or building codes to improve energy Performance.

• Representing nearly 300 million people, 75 Regions Adapt members commit to joining the Race to Resilience; 33 cities join Cities Race to Resilience, aiming to 200 cities next year.

Download the full press release here.

2021-10-19 |
Pandemic caused dip in building emissions, but long-term outlook bleak – UN report

Nairobi, 14 October 2021 – The economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic caused CO2 emissions from buildings and construction to fall significantly in 2020, but a lack of real transformation in the sector means that emissions will keep rising and contribute to dangerous climate change, according to the 2021 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction.

The report, published by the UNEP-hosted Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (GlobalABC), finds that in 2020, the sector accounted for 36 per cent of global final energy consumption and 37 per cent of energy related CO2 emissions, as compared to other end use sectors.

While the level of emissions within the sector are 10 per cent lower than in 2015, reaching lows not seen since 2007, this was largely due to lockdowns, slowing of economies, difficulties households and businesses faced in maintaining and affording energy access and a fall in construction activity. Efforts to decarbonize the sector played only a small role.

Download the full report in English and French.

2021-10-06 | Architecture2030
Building Industry Leaders to World Governments: It's Time to Lead on Climate

More than 60 of the largest and most influential international architecture, landscape architecture, engineering, planning, and construction firms, collectively responsible for over $300 billion in annual construction, along with two dozen organizations representing over one million building industry professionals worldwide, issued a Communiqué to government leaders headed to the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP 26) challenging them to step up their emissions reduction targets for the built environment. The firms and organizations are signatories of the 1.5oC COP26 Communiqué — an open letter to sovereign governments demonstrating the firms' and organizations' commitment to meet the Paris Agreement's 1.5ocarbon budget and demanding governments do the same.

Read more about this here.

2021-09-07 |
#BuildingToCOP26 Coalition accelerates climate action ahead of Cities, Regions and Built Environment Day at COP26

Following the sobering message from the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report, a coalition led by C40, the Global Alliance for Building and Construction (GlobalABC), The Resilience Shift, World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) announce #BuildingToCOP26 — a partnership to promote radical collaboration for climate action ahead of the Cities, Regions and Built Environment Day at COP26.

The #BuildingToCOP26 Coalition — a group of business and government networks focused on sustainability in the built environment — are coming together for the first time to spotlight the built environment's potential in accelerating climate action.

Working with the UN High Level Climate Champions, the COP26 Presidency and the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Coalition’s efforts will culminate on 11 November at the COP26 Cities, Regions and Built Environment Day, which will rally awareness, action and collaboration among all stakeholders in the
built environment.

Download the full press release here