WorldGBC will begin work to assess how the increasing emissions from building and construction can reach net zero by 2050
The recent launch of WorldGBC’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment at the Global Climate Action Summit firmly placed eliminating operational carbon from buildings at the forefront of political and corporate climate agenda. We invited leading Business and Governments to step up and pledge to ensure that buildings under their direct control would operate at net zero carbon by 2030, and to enable wider market transformation to ensure all buildings operate at net zero carbon by 2050, in line with the goals of our Advancing Net Zero project.
However, tackling operational carbon emissions alone will not be enough. Today’s report from the IPCC notes that every sector must decarbonise by 2050, and that will require the entire building and construction supply chain to decarbonise. This includes what is termed as ‘embodied carbon’ when assessed at a building level – the emissions associated with the production, transportation and disposal of building materials and the construction process itself.
Following extensive GBC and industry stakeholder engagement, our Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment currently calls for elimination of Scope 1 and 2 energy related operational carbon emissions – that’s the direct emissions from owned or controlled sources and indirect emissions from the generation of purchased energy. However, what the IPCC report today makes clear is that the wider carbon lifecycle impacts of the sector must also reach zero by 2050, so that we stay within 1.5 degrees of global warming. Whilst global energy-related emissions use in buildings is responsible for approximately 28% of global energy-related carbon emissions, a further 11% is incurred through the materials and construction process. While that proportion may seem small, it is growing as both the operational proportion shrinks with the shift to net zero operating emissions in buildings, and new building and construction increases in pace around the world – in Africa alone, 90 billion square metres of floor space is due to be constructed by 2060.
Assessing lifecycle carbon impacts, including embodied carbon, is an incredibly complex and challenging technical area. But as the International Energy Agency estimates the global building stock, currently around 223 billion square meters, will double in new developments before 2050, we must urgently address the emissions associated. Decisions made today at the design phase of a new building or infrastructure project will ‘lock in’ carbon for decades or even centuries. Much has already been done to advance this important area of work, and as WorldGBC looks to advance the building and construction industry towards a zero-emission future, we must do more to ensure addressing embodied carbon is a central piece of the solution.
Some GBC green building certification schemes award points or credits for sourcing materials locally, raising awareness of the carbon impacts of transporting materials relative to its performance or aesthetic credentials; or for tracking the embodied carbon of a project, such as Canada Green Building Council’s Zero Carbon Building Program.
Through the global Advancing Net Zero project and all Regional Networks, with particular leadership from the Europe Network, WorldGBC will set out a vision for the building and construction sector to reach net zero by 2050, identifying in particular key targets and actions which can be implemented by all sectors – demand side (real estate sector), supply side (materials and industry), policy makers (from cities, states and regions, and national governments), experts from Green Building Councils and supporting civil society. The work will be supported by the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, and will work in coordination with not only the WorldGBC GBCs and their 48,000 members but also C40 Cities, the European Climate Foundation and We Mean Business. In the same way our Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment approaches operational carbon, we will share experiences on what is already being made possible from across the world and, spark collective action to support our sector to address this significant challenge. Together, we will work to consult extensively and ensure that the pathways set are achievable for all industries and sectors, but also that they heed the warning from the IPCC and lead us to full decarbonisation by 2050.
While this is an incredibly complex area, the IPCC report makes clear that we must address these emissions in order to achieve our mission and create green buildings that mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. Join us to help lead the way to a fully decarbonised building sector.
Terri Wills is the CEO of the World Green Building Council, Victoria Kate Burrows is the Head of Advancing Net Zero for the World Green Building Council, and James Drinkwater is the Director of the European Regional Network at the World Green Building Council.
To find out more about the embodied carbon work planned for 2019, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
 For more on Embodied Carbon and Lifecycle Carbon Assessment please refer to https://www.rics.org/globalassets/rics-website/media/upholding-professional-standards/sector-standards/building-surveying/whole-life-carbon-assessment-for-the-built-environment-1st-edition-rics.pdf)