The built environment has a vital role to play in responding to the climate emergency. As the world’s population approaches 10 billion, the global building stock is expected to double in size. Without drastic changes to the way our sector operates, this growth will consume vast amounts of natural resources, contributing to an expected doubling of the total global consumption of raw materials by around the middle of the century, significantly increasing the sector’s emissions and climate impact.
This report considers how carbon emissions are released not only during operational life but also during the manufacturing, transportation, construction and end of life phases of all built assets – buildings and infrastructure. These emissions, commonly referred to as embodied carbon, have largely been overlooked historically but contribute around 11% of all global carbon emissions. Carbon emissions released before the building or infrastructure begins to be used, sometimes called upfront carbon, will be responsible for half of the entire carbon footprint of new construction between now and 2050, threatening to consume a large part of our remaining carbon budget. As operational carbon is reduced, embodied carbon will continue to grow in importance as a proportion of total emissions. While we must continue to focus on addressing operational carbon this report provides a roadmap to drastically increase efforts to tackle embodied carbon emissions at a global scale, too.