Cities & Buildings Ros Davidson - 30/January/2020

Embodied carbon the new frontier

The world’s building stock is forecast to double in size by 2050 to house a global population of 11 billion. If climate neutrality is also to be met by this date, the construction industry will have to significantly slash emissions from the materials it uses

Plenty of work has gone into making buildings more energy efficient and encouraging the switch from fossil fuels to renewables, but much less attention has been given to reducing the carbon in the materials they are made from. Experts are now examining how best to cut these “embodied emissions”

Only using the amount of steel or concrete required for structural stability and reusing and recycling materials or even whole parts of existing buildings is key to emissions reduction in the construction business

A building should have a carbon budget just as it has a financial budget

Work to make buildings more climate-friendly tends to focus on operational emissions produced by the energy used for heating, cooling, cooking and other activities. But increasingly attention is turning to so-called embodied carbon, emissions released during the making, transport, assembly, installation, demolition and decomposition of buildings and construction materials. “You follow the brick all the way back to the quarry and you [also] figure out what is going to happen to it in 100 or 2000 years,” is how architectural historian Kiel Moe explains the concept. A building’s fuel efficiency may be important, but it is missing the big picture, he says.

As much as 11% of global emissions are represented by embodied carbon, says the non-profit World Green Building Council (WorldGBC). As operational emissions have decreased with increased renewables and energy efficiency measures, embodied carbon, which until now has remained hidden further down the supply chain, has become the biggest climate problem from buildings. Bringing Carbon Upfront, a report published in September 2019 by WorldGBC, engineering company Ramboll and NGO C40 Cities sets the goal of reducing embodied carbon in new and renovated projects by 40% within a decade and to net zero by 2050. ...

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