The “forgotten” greenhouse gas emissions of our built environment will be a hard nut to crack

Buildings Construction industry Climate change mitigation Greenhouse gas mitigation Australia

True or false? “A zero-carbon built environment means that no fossil fuels are used in the operation of buildings and infrastructure.” False, because this leaves out the embodied carbon emissions of building, maintaining and dismantling the built environment. But how would we know?

A whopping 40 per cent of all of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to the built environment and there is increasing political consensus and will to reduce this liability swiftly.

“Zero-carbon” or “carbon-neutral” announcements for anything from buildings to cities are in vogue. But almost half of this 40 per cent figure are not even included in the discussion because they are indirect emissions, “hidden” in the supply chain of making buildings.

Our new research shows that 90 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions are emitted annually in constructing new buildings and infrastructure and maintaining the existing ones. This is almost a fifth of all of our annual emissions and of a similar magnitude to operational emissions from our buildings that account for 127 Mt CO2e a year.

Reducing this liability of “embodied” emissions will be much harder than building zero-carbon buildings. Here is why.

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