Pandemic dips building emissions, but long-term outlook bleak: UN report

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The economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic caused CO2 emissions from buildings and construction to fall significantly in 2020, but a lack of real transformation in the sector means that emissions will keep rising and contribute to dangerous climate change, said the 2021 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction.

The report, published by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)-hosted Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (GlobalABC), finds in 2020, the sector accounted for 36 per cent of global final energy consumption and 37 per cent of energy related CO2 emissions, as compared to other end use sectors.

While the level of emissions within the sector are 10 per cent lower than in 2015, reaching lows not seen since 2007, this was largely due to lockdowns, slowing of economies, difficulties households and businesses faced in maintaining and affording energy access and a fall in construction activity. Efforts to decarbonise the sector played only a small role.

With large growth projected in the building sector, emissions are set to rise if there is no effort to decarbonise buildings and improve their energy efficiency.

In Asia and Africa, building stock is expected to double by 2050. Global material use is expected to more than double by 2060, with one-third of this rise attributable to construction materials.

“This year showed that climate change is an immediate, direct threat to every community on this planet, and it is only going to intensify,” said UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen.

“The buildings and construction sector, as a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, must urgently be decarbonised through a triple strategy of reducing energy demand, decarbonising the power supply and addressing building materials’ carbon footprint, if we are to have any chance of meeting the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C.”

Some progress, but not enough, says the report.

The GlobalABC’s Global Buildings Climate Tracker found that there have been some incremental improvements in action to decarbonise and improve the energy efficiency of the sector.

In 2015, 90 countries included actions for addressing buildings emissions or improving energy efficiency in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement. This number has now hit 136, although ambition varies.

Since 2015, an additional 18 countries have put in place building energy codes — a move that is crucial to shift emissions downwards — bringing the total to 80. Local cities and governments have also developed codes.

Investment in energy efficiency rose to over $180 billion in 2020, up from $129 billion in 2015. Green building certification has increased by 13.9 per cent compared to 2019.

Overall, however, the report finds that these efforts are insufficient, both in terms of speed and scale.

Other key findings of the report include: two-thirds of countries still lack mandatory buildings codes; most of the increase in energy efficiency spending came from a small number of European countries; too small a share of finance goes into deep energy retrofits, and there is a lack of ambitious decarbonisation targets in NDCs.

What comes next?

Energy demand in the buildings and construction sector is likely to rebound as economic recovery efforts take hold and as pent-up demands for new construction are realized.

By 2030, to be on track for achieving a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, the International Energy Agency says that direct building CO2 emissions would need to decrease by 50 per cent.

Indirect building sector emissions will have to drop through a reduction of 60 per cent in power generation emissions. To achieve these goals, the report finds, the sector must take advantage of every lever.

–IANS

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