UN: CO2 emissions from buildings, construction hit new high

Carbon dioxide emissions from buildings and construction have reached an all-time high, pushing the sector off course to decarbonize by 2050, according to a new United Nations report.

The U.N. released the 2022 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction on Wednesday as global leaders and activists gather in Egypt to attend the COP27 climate summit.

The report found that the building and construction sector accounted for 34 percent of all energy demand and made up 37 percent of energy and process-related CO2 emissions last year.

It also found that in 2021 carbon dioxide emissions from buildings reached an all-time high of about 10 gigatons, marking a 5 percent increase from 2020 and a 2 percent increase from 2019 emissions, after COVID-19-related lockdowns in 2020 briefly lowered carbon emissions around the world.

One report found that global carbon dioxide emissions fell by 6.4 percent, or 2.3 billion tons, during the first year of the pandemic as economic and social activities screeched to a halt.

While the amount was small, it was still significant. That number is more than Japan’s total carbon dioxide output in a year.

But during the second year of the pandemic, as businesses began to reopen and life returned to something more normal, carbon emissions climbed back up.

“Years of warnings about the impacts of climate change have become a reality,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme. “If we do not rapidly cut emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, we will be in deeper trouble.”

The report’s authors attributed the increase not only to construction work rebounding to pre-pandemic levels but also to buildings using more energy as in-person work returned alongside hybrid work.

In addition, the report also linked the increase to more emerging economies increasing their use of fossil fuels in buildings.

As a result, energy demand in buildings went up by about 4 percent more compared to 2020 to a total of 135 exajoules, the largest increase in the past 10 years.

The report’s findings come in the wake of calls to speed up energy efficiency measures and new initiatives to lower the carbon footprint of buildings and construction.

But the report’s findings emphasize that while some progress has been made in bringing about policies to address building and construction’s impact on the climate, more work is needed to reduce emissions.

During last year’s climate summit in Glasgow, U.N. leaders stressed the importance of addressing the emissions stemming from the “built environment,” noting that buildings and construction account for almost 48 percent of all global emissions.

U.N. leaders set goals for “built environment” to halve its emissions by 2030 and for all new buildings to be net-zero in carbon operation by 2050 in order to ensure the world’s temperature does not increase more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“There must be greater effort to reduce emissions overall and improve building energy performance alongside the continuing trend of increasing floor area,” the report states.

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