The race to track and eliminate ’embodied’ emissions from buildings

Nikolaus J. Kurmayer

Five EU countries – Denmark, Finland, France, the Netherlands and Sweden – have passed laws to regulate whole-life carbon emissions from buildings, but the EU is hesitant to follow suit, instead proposing measuring emissions associated with building materials. According to official EU statistics, the building sector is a well-known greenhouse gas emitter: 40% of EU emissions and 36% of final energy use stems from buildings. This is due mainly to the energy used by heating, lighting and other appliances, but a lesser-known factor is emissions associated with building materials. “At every phase of its existence, a building has an impact on our climate,” wrote a coalition of Danish engineers and architects in an op-ed for EURACTIV earlier this year. Whether it be cement, wood, glass, bricks or sand, every material comes with its own climate cost and reducing these emissions will be crucial to reach the EU’s objective of becoming climate neutral by 2050. According to available statistics, cement production accounts for about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, although for the EU, that figure is “just” 3%. And while the sector’s emissions are trending downwards, full decarbonisation is still a long way off.

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