A new report calls for the building and construction sectors to cut down on embodied carbon emissions by focusing on product life cycles and processes.
Bringing Embodied Carbon Upfront calls for the building and construction sectors to transform from a major contributor to the climate emergency into a major solution.
The report, published by the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) and signed by the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC), shows buildings are responsible for 39 percent of global carbon emissions. Despite this significant contribution, reducing these emissions might be one of the most efficient and cheapest ways to combat climate change.
"Until now, the focus has been on ‘operational carbon’ - the emissions produced by heating, lighting, and cooling our buildings once they are built. ‘Embodied carbon’ – the emissions produced making, transporting, and disposing of building materials – has largely been overlooked, but it contributes around 11 percent of global emissions," says ASBEC's President, Professor Ken Maher AO.
Many of the products currently in use in Australia's buildings have international life cycles. Raw material might be mined in one country, transported to another for manufacture, and then brought to Australia for use and eventual disposal. It is by accounting for and reducing the carbon emissions created by this process that important progress can be made.
Bringing Embodied Carbon Upfront proposes a coherent set of tools for accounting for this carbon in building products.
"The report makes it clear that the building sector needs to take coordinated action to understand product life cycles and processes," says Suzanne Toumbourou, executive director of ASBEC.
"Here in Australia, ASBEC creates collaboration across the building sector to achieve a common vision and establish clear policy pathways to lowering emissions. We showcase the fact that many of our market-leading members are already demonstrating best practice when it comes to reducing carbon emissions.
"Global companies like Skanska have said they are willing to work on this, and Australian company Lendlease is used as an example of best practice in Bringing Embodied Carbon Upfront for their work with engineered timber. By adopting the tools in the report, we’ll know how much carbon has been emitted in the production of building materials so we can compare like with like."
The WorldGBC calls for all countries to create national roadmaps to net zero by 2020. ASBEC has partnered with ClimateWorks Australia to create Built to Perform, an industry-led roadmap to a zero carbon-ready zero building code, while the Council of Australian Governments Energy Council has created the Trajectory for Low Energy Buildings, which also focuses on operational emissions.
ASBEC says the next step is to work collaboratively with federal and state governments to develop progressive embodied carbon reduction targets.
"Climate change and rising emissions are a global challenge. The fact that the buildings and construction sector operates at global scale means it’s a complex task to understand exactly what emissions are created by the entire life cycle of our buildings," says Maher.
"By understanding and addressing this life cycle, we can deliver a powerful response to the challenge of climate change, and build a better future for all of us."
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