Earth Today | Buildings slipping
Report urges renewed efforts for energy-efficient construction practices
AS THE anxieties of COVID-19 retreat into memory, construction activities have bounced back and with them, an uptick in the energy-intensive use of buildings globally, eroding emissions reduction gains from the pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an unprecedented change across the world in the buildings and construction sector in 2020. This included a major drop in demand for construction across major economies, workplace shutdowns due to lockdown, labour and material shortages, changing work patterns, and energy affordability challenges, which all still persist today. The result was the single largest drop in CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions in the last decade,” reveals the 2022 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction – a flagship publication of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)-hosted Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction.
That changed in 2021 – and with now mounting concern over the future of emissions reduction targets as the world seeks to hold the warming of the planet at below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, in line with the provisions of the 2015 global pact, the Paris Agreement.
Small island developing states, such as Jamaica and others of the Caribbean, have a vested interest in seeing greenhouse gas emissions scaled back, as they ‘fuel’ global warming and its impacts – to which they are especially vulnerable. Those impacts include extreme hurricane events, sea level rise and the associated livelihood loss as well as public health threats.
“In 2021, construction activities rebounded back to pre-pandemic levels in most major economies alongside more energy-intensive use of buildings as workplaces reopened … More emerging economies increased their use of fossil fuel gases in buildings. As a result, buildings’ energy demand increased by around four per cent from 2020 to 135 EJ – the largest increase in the last 10 years. The impact of this is that CO2 emissions from buildings operations have reached an all-time high … around a five per cent increase from 2020 and two per cent higher than the previous peak in 2019,” the report added.
The takeaway, the report said, is that ‘few structural changes have yet occurred within the buildings sector to reduce energy demand or cute missions, and that 2020 was merely a pandemic-related outlier in building emissions trends”.
While conceding that there has been some policy-level progress, the report said there is need for scaled-up efforts to “reduce emissions overall and improve building energy performance alongside the continuing trend of increasing floor area”.
The report, which, among other things, provides an annual snapshot of the progress of the buildings and construction sector on a global scale, has made a number of recommendations to help solve the problem.
They include the development of coalitions to set targets and strategy towards a zero-emission, efficient and resilient buildings and construction sector through “decarbonisation and resilience roadmaps”; as well as the implementation of mandatory building energy codes by governments and a system for performance assessments.
Governments and non-state actors, it suggested further, should also increase their investment in energy efficiency.
“This investment needs to target all businesses and households. Governments will need to use financial and non-financial incentives to encourage investment and provide support for vulnerable households,” the report noted.
As for the players in the building and construction industries, it said they must “develop and implement zero-carbon strategies for new and existing buildings in all jurisdictions,in order to effectively support government policies”; and “commit to reducing their CO2emissions throughout their value chain in line with the Paris Agreement, supporting government policies towards a carbon-neutral building stock”.
“Policymakers and decision-makers must urgently implement definitive near-term actions that deliver the needed emissions reductions while achieving the objectives of a sustainable and resilient buildings and construction sector. The buildings sector will continue to grow to meet citizens’ needs for safe housing and workplaces, but its growth must be in alignment with the Paris Agreement,” the report cautioned.