Business of Design

39% of Carbon Dioxide Emissions Are Caused by Construction

Amid COVID-19, multifunctional buildings and mixed-use projects will be the face of transformations as the world fights to produce responsive low-carbon cities.

The Download: At the 2019 Climate Action Summit, the United Nations secretary general António Guterres said, “the world is losing the race against the climate emergency, but it’s a race we can win.” One major contributor to climate change is the construction industry, which yields 6.13 billion square meters of buildings every year and accounts for 39 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions with upstream power generation.

Why It Matters: Society is tethered to cheap fossil fuels—in 2017, it accounted for 85 percent of global energy consumption. These unsustainable resources are everywhere: transit systems, the highly embodied carbon of concrete buildings, and food chain supplies.

In Their Own Words: “The majority of the world’s population live in cities, projected to rise to 70 percent by 2050,” says Mark Watts, executive director of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. “As cities continue to grow, and temperatures continue to rise dangerously, it has never been more important for the buildings and construction sector to be leading the way on climate action. Because the sector is responsible for such a large chunk of global emissions, it means there’s huge potential for reduction.”

Surface Says: As we all know, the climate crisis requires immediate action. Given the scale of the construction industry’s carbon emissions, it may be wise to look there first.

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