Construction value chains are responsible for about 40% of the world’s energy consumption and industrial carbon dioxide emissions. This includes the construction of buildings and their operations as well as the production of materials.
As a new report by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) shows, the heating, cooling, and powering of buildings accounts for around half of the sector’s emissions. The other half comes from the production of building materials like cement and steel.
According to the report, called “Building Green: Sustainable Construction in Emerging Markets,” construction value chain emissions are expected to increase by 13% by 2035.
In this context, the transition to environmentally friendly construction practices plays a pivotal role in the reduction of global carbon emissions. This shift, the new IFC report finds, could result in a remarkable 23% reduction in carbon emissions by 2035.
Emerging markets, which currently contribute significantly to emissions, would account for 55% of the decrease.
The IFC’s report also looks at ways to reduce construction emissions: “Energy-saving design, construction, and operations practices and access to climate-friendly capital markets that channel more investment to the construction value chain.”
“This would mark a significant breakthrough in the fight against climate change, reducing the likelihood of extreme weather events that exact an ever-higher economic and human cost on the world’s poorest populations. Companies that reap cost-saving or new business opportunities would also find benefits to their bottom line.”
If these are successfully implemented, the IFC says construction emissions could be curbed by 12.8% by 2035.
Emissions from heating, cooling and powering buildings, meanwhile, can be reduced through “energy-efficient designs for new structures, orienting them toward the sun, incorporating more external shading, and installing smaller windows,” according to the IFC.
“Existing buildings can also be improved by lightly retrofitting them with more efficient cooling and heating systems, smart meters, and by applying reflective paint to external surfaces and rooftops, among other sustainable practices and technologies,” the IFC adds.
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As to the other major contributor to emissions from the construction sector — the production of building materials — the IFC recommends reducing the footprint of cement production by “[u]sing alternative fuel sources such as biomass, waste, and industrial residues, combined with wind and solar renewable energies rather than coal.”
This, the IFC says, can reduce cement production emissions by 20%.
And how much would all this cost? According to IFC research, the “total cost of greening construction value chains would amount to just 0.03 percentage points of global GDP per year on average between 2022 and 2035 if the recommended energy efficiency measures are taken.”
This would put the total global investment needs at $3.5 trillion by 2035, with $1.5 trillion needed for emerging markets.