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Carbon Leadership Forum

Global Initiative for a Global Challenge

The Paris Climate Agreement set targets to reduce anthropomorphic carbon emissions to zero by 2050. In just over three decades, all sectors of the economy must transform from being carbon sources to carbon sinks. The greenhouse gas emissions ‘embodied’ in manufacturing building materials and products from account for between 10% and 20% of the US total. Over the last 50 years, significant governmental and NGO efforts have focused on improving building operating energy efficiency. The effort to understand and reduce embodied impacts dwarfs in comparison.

Yet, embodied carbon impacts of buildings are more significant than the 10% estimate implies. For new construction, these impacts occur at the start of a buildings life. Operating emissions take place over time and will reduce with grid de-carbonization. If we were to take a ‘time value of carbon’, current carbon is ‘worth more’ than future carbon.

With atmospheric CO2 now over 400 ppm and annual global CO2e emissions at ~40 gigatons, all current initiatives to reduce GHG’s – including converting to clean energy, growing more trees, reducing beef consumption, and protecting natural carbon sinks – will not be enough to avert catastrophic and irreversible Global Warming. We must pull gigatons of CO2 out of the atmosphere and sequester it permanently to restore ecological balance. For this to happen soon enough, global business must have compelling opportunities to profit by doing what’s best for the planet and humanity – in short, structural imperatives to successfully confront climate change.

Our approach is three-fold: 1) capture waste CO2 from the ambient air, smokestacks, and industrial processes; 2) convert CO2 into useful carbon-based materials including chemicals, concrete and plastics; and 3) manufacture thousands of durable products with carbon-based feedstocks. This approach is based on research, technologies, and market developments that already exist, but which we must accelerate dramatically.

Our first focus will be to transform the built environment from a source of billions of tons of carbon emissions every year to a gigaton-scale carbon sink.  Buildings account for as much as 50% of global carbon emissions including the materials and energy used in construction and operation.  A massive wave of global infrastructure construction is expected – enough to create another Manhattan every 35 days.  Recent innovations in materials make it possible to store carbon in buildings.  A community of “green building” professionals is working to reduce the carbon footprint of buildings.  But to achieve the ambitious goal of storing gigatons of carbon every year in the built environment, we must bring together building industry actors to implement a comprehensive strategy of market transformation.