5 Strategies for Decarbonising the Construction Industry

Co-creating our cities with nature will benefit us all

To mitigate global warming to a level safe for humans and to prevent irreversible climate effects or a self-accelerating global warming, it is crucial to keep the average global temperature rise below 2°C and, ideally, limit it to 1.5°C, as every 1/10°C counts.¹ Achieving this goal requires a significant reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, aiming for global net neutrality by 2050.

Cities play a vital role in the journey toward net-zero emissions.² Currently, buildings and construction contribute to nearly 40% of global GHG emissions. With urban growth expected to increase substantially over the next 30 years, it’s equivalent to creating a new city the size of New York every month. This relentless growth makes it challenging to transition from resource-intensive built environments to widespread adoption of climate-neutral practices. Recognising the importance of addressing existing and outdated infrastructure, there is a need to shift the focus of pioneering projects from merely achieving net-zero emissions to creating climate-positive developments.‍

Five complementary principles and strategies can collectively guide infrastructure and built environment systems toward harmonising with nature. These will include:

Shift Towards Nature-Based Solutions

Nature-based solutions (NbS) align with natural processes and offer various advantages while enhancing building performance. Innovative planning, design, and construction demonstrate that engineered solutions utilising nature for heating, cooling, shading, and water management, such as streetscapes, roofs, and green walls, not only enhance human well-being but also promote biodiversity and improve natural ecosystem health. An example of this integrated approach is the Vertical Forest concept pioneered by Stefano Boeri Architetti, which illustrates a new cohabitation model for various species.

Furthermore, bio-based materials like timber can serve as a viable means to reduce embedded emissions, provided that the necessary supply chains for their widespread adoption as structural materials are developed in a timely and sustainable manner.

Compact Built Environment

The development of compact building concepts, incorporating innovative techniques to reduce the land-to-building ratio, allows for increased public green spaces. This approach yields positive benefits for both people and the environment.

Planet-Compatible Urban Utilities

Incorporating management and reduction strategies for airborne and waterborne pollution, as well as addressing the solid waste generated by human urban settlements, is essential. Often, this waste ends up leaking into the surrounding environment.

Restoring and Protecting Nature As Infrastructure

Augmenting existing grey engineered solutions with natural infrastructures is a strategy that enhances resilience to extreme weather events while offering essential services like water supply and treatment.

Preserving and Restoring Biodiversity

Investing in projects and initiatives aimed at preventing the disruption of global migration patterns and local animal habitats is crucial. To achieve significant positive impacts, these approaches must be implemented on a large scale, extending beyond the scope of pilot projects and demonstrations.

1UNFCCC (2023). The Paris Agreement.

2UNEP & GlobalABC (2021). Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction

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18 Aug 2022
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