Embodied carbon emissions are generated by the manufacturing, transportation, installation, maintenance, and disposal of construction materials used in buildings, roads, and other infrastructure.
As building designers, we have already put significant efforts into reducing the environmental footprint of buildings. We have improved operational energy efficiencies and made progress towards the widespread electrification of buildings.
However, this is not enough. In order to avoid the catastrophic impacts of climate change and to have any chance of reaching the decarbonization targets set by the Paris Agreement, we have to do more. We have to tackle embodied carbon, which encompasses the greenhouse gas emissions associated with materials over the full life cycle of buildings.
The most recent report from the world’s leading experts on climate change—the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—warns of observed changes in weather extremes such as heat waves, heavy precipitation, droughts, and tropical cyclones. The report also clearly finds that the human influence on these weather events has strengthened. Based on the current trajectory, global temperatures are expected to exceed 1.5°C.
In order to prevent global temperatures from exceeding 1.5°C, global net anthropogenic CO₂ emissions must decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. This means that we have until 2030 to radically decarbonize the building industry.
The good news is that we already have strategies that can make a difference, and architects can lead the way: here’s an introduction to how.