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Australia steps up to the challenge to decarbonise

When the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) released its call to action on embodied carbon in September 2019, Australia’s leading organisations didn’t hesitate to endorse it.

Twenty members of the Green Building Council of Australia backed the drastic action for the building and construction sector immediately.

This was almost a quarter of the companies, governments and institutions worldwide, creating an impressive groundswell of support for change in Australia.

These agencies have aligned themselves with WorldGBC’s vision for dramatic cuts in the carbon emitted across the entire lifecycle of a building or infrastructure, with a particular focus for the carbon emitted at construction.

This vision is important because those emissions are estimated to be 11% of all worldwide emissions. And out of that 11% of emissions, most of these happen upfront; before anyone sets a foot in the building.

As WorldGBC’s report says: “These are using up our carbon budget now”. “Once a building or infrastructure enters operation, nothing more can be done about its upfront emissions.”

Reducing upfront carbon emissions is critical to avoid the forecast climate change catastrophe laid out by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

We need to address these now.

What is the report calling for?

WorldGBC’s Bringing Embodied Carbon Upfront report calls for all new buildings, infrastructure and renovations to reduce by 40% its embodied carbon, particularly those upfront, by 2030.

By 2050, the vision is for all new buildings, infrastructure and renovations to have zero net carbon embodied carbon and all to be net zero emissions in operations as well.

Bringing Embodied Carbon Upfront is a worldwide call to action.

The report notes that reducing upfront carbon emissions is no easy task. It needs the collaborations and commitments from all stakeholders in the built environment, from non-government organisations, networks and researchers, to policymakers, investors, developers, designers and materials manufacturers.

As such, the report outlines the coordinated steps across industry, government and finance required to move further and faster to decarbonise across the entire lifecycle of a building.

Amongst the actions that are needed, the report calls for all stakeholders in the property sector within each country to set a strategy to address upfront carbon emissions. It also calls for targets to be introduced across standards and building codes. Over the decade, it calls for commitments to only finance compliant projects, and for tenants to push to occupy buildings with lower upfront carbon emissions.

At the GBCA, we are driving momentum to recognise the importance of upfront and embodied carbon.

Our Carbon Positive Roadmap – a plan to decarbonise the built environment – was cited by WorldGBC for its leadership.

And at a practical level, from next year new buildings seeking a Green Star rating will be required to reduce their upfront carbon emissions by 10 per cent with additional incentives to offset upfront carbon.

But we need everyone – all industry players, investors, manufacturers, governments and consumers – to play their part in making sure we achieve these changes.

Our members are already taking steps.

WorldGBC’s report highlights Lendlease’s 25 King Street commercial tower in Brisbane, the world’s tallest engineered-timber office building, which used prefabricated cross-laminated timber to develop a high-quality, sustainable project.

In Victoria, the Bayswater Level Crossing Removal Project replaced a dangerous crossing with a new train station, embedding sustainability along the way. Carbon emissions during construction were cut 30%, and a forecast 43% for the 50-year operations.

These are two examples of projects looking to reduce their upfront carbon emissions.

The last few years has been all about operational carbon. We know that achieving net zero operating emissions is possible. It’s now time to come together to adopt the vision, to collaborate towards, and to commit to net zero embodied carbon by 2050.

We thank the organisations that supported WorldGBC’s vision for reducing embodied carbon emissions.

This includes the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC), the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA), product certification systems Global Green Tag International Pty Ltd, Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA), leading local governments like the City of Melbourne and City of Sydney, and companies AECOM, Atelier 10, Cundall, Edge Environment, Frasers Property Australia, Integral Group, Interface, JLL, LafargeHolcim, Multiplex Global, RDT Pacific, Shaw Contract, thinkstep Australasia and WSP.

Jorge Chapa is Head of Market Transformation at the Green Building Council of Australia

To find out more about WorldGBC’s call to action on embodied carbon, watch the video.