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Constructing new buildings could pump out climate pollution equivalent to one million cars – NZGBC report

Constructing and renovating New Zealand buildings between now and 2050 could pump out climate change pollution equivalent to one million cars on the road every year, a new report by New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC) has revealed today.

This figure – around three million tonnes of carbon – only includes embodied carbon, the pollution emitted during the manufacture and construction of a building and its materials, and is separate from operational carbon, emitted during the buildings’ operation for heating and lighting.

Based on publicly available data and information provided by concrete, steel, timber and other sectors, the report suggests that the construction industry could slash emissions by around 1.2 million tonnes of carbon every year – the equivalent of taking almost 500,000 cars off the road.

The New Zealand government is striving to make the country net zero carbon by 2050, in line with international agreements to tackle climate change.

The report, called Under Construction: Hidden emissions and untapped potential of buildings for New Zealand’s 2050 zero carbon goal explores the impact that constructing new buildings will have on these efforts at the national level.

The report forms part of a submission to a Parliamentary Select Committee on the Government’s Zero Carbon Bill.

The new findings, combined with earlier research revealing that New Zealand’s built environment is responsible for approximately 20 percent of the country’s carbon emissions, strongly suggest that the Climate Change Commission, who will monitor and review climate pollution reduction efforts, should contain a building and construction industry expert; which NZGBC further urged in their select committee appearance today.

The report found that the “key materials contributing to embodied GHG emissions in New Zealand were found to be steel and concrete, which contribute more than 50% of the carbon footprint of both residential and non-residential construction…A collaborative effort will enable us to achieve or exceed the 40% decarbonisation potential identified in this report.”

Andrew Eagles, CEO of New Zealand Green Building Council, said: “The findings of this report clearly show that buildings and construction have to form a key part of New Zealand’s efforts to tackle climate change pollution. We simply can’t achieve our zero carbon goals without making progress on this hidden pollution.

“There is growing pressure, internationally and here in New Zealand, for construction to be cleaner and less polluting. And this report will surely only increase that pressure. We need to construct healthy, efficient buildings, and warm, dry homes, and slash carbon emissions too. And these go hand in hand. It’s now absolutely essential for the government to take a lead on decarbonising our buildings.

“They can do this in two clear ways. Firstly, by ensuring there’s a building expert on the Climate Change Commission. Secondly, as the largest and most significant building occupier in Aotearoa the government can clean up their own house, and ensure that all their buildings are climate-friendly, clean and efficient places.”

The full report is available here.

NZGBC’s report is released just weeks before the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) is scheduled to publish a call to action report setting out a pathway to completely eliminate embodied carbon from building and construction, in line with WorldGBC’s Advancing Net Zero global project.

To find out more, click here.