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The world has paused, but emissions have not

COVID-19 set to decrease global carbon emissions by only 8%. It’s time to #BuildBackBetter

The world has paused. We barely commute or fly, and supply chains standstill. And yet, for this year, carbon emissions projections are expected to fall by only 8%.

Why? Because carbon emissions come from generating energy from fossil fuels. The lion’s share of that energy – around 36% – is consumed by buildings.

With the COVID-19 crisis pushing much of the world into their residences, we are consuming more energy at home than at work. We still need energy to live our daily lives, so emissions continue to be generated.

This must change.

The built environment can create a “new normal” for the environment and wellbeing

Rather than rushing to “return to normal”, we should be seeking a new one. Our sustainability movement has demonstrated that the building and construction industry can design, build and operate buildings to be more efficient and healthier for people. There are inspiring examples from around the world proving what can be done. Many of the buildings that already exist were developed long before these solutions were possible, so we have an enormous challenge to renovate them, and ensure they are fit for purpose in today’s world – and tomorrow’s.

A huge influence on our physical and mental health during this time is our sense of place. Natural daylight and ventilation, access to green spaces, energy-efficient homes to ensure adequate comfort levels, all contribute to our wellbeing.

Few homes are designed with a dedicated area for “working from home”, meaning that many have been working in unsuitable locations, perhaps without the necessary equipment or infrastructure. A separate space to ensure a psychological switch from work to home environments at the end of the day is important to ensure a healthy work-life balance.

As companies make long-term switches to home working, the design community must support this transition. They can do this by delivering these spaces through flexible and high-quality housing that supports thriving local communities. Equitable access to digital infrastructure, large-scale renovation and refurbishment of existing buildings to sustainability principles is crucial to ensure they are future-proofed.

It’s time to #BuildBackBetter

Whilst the crisis has moderated air pollution, cleared the skies and reduced the daily commute and associated emissions, we must ensure these short-term wins are not reversed as we recover.

We cannot waste the opportunity to learn from this crisis.

It’s time we emerge more appreciative of nature and its limits.

It’s time we embrace innovation and invest in a green economic recovery that creates jobs and clean energy infrastructure.

It’s time we deliver net zero, healthy, equitable and sustainable built environments everywhere for everyone.

It’s time to #BuildBackBetter.


Cristina Gamboa, CEO, WorldGBC