Collaboration between the buildings and infrastructure sectors is essential to create a sustainable environment and tackle the climate crisis, according to a report from the World Green Building Council (WGBC).
Ahead of the COP26 summit, WGBC, a member organisation which advocates for a sustainable built environment, is calling for the development of a global framework of principles for the sectors to align with the United Nations’ Sustainability Development Goals.
In its report, Beyond Buildings, the WGBC said that an integrated approach to the whole built environment, including infrastructure such as transport, energy, sanitation and communication networks, and health and other facilities, is essential to deliver the changes needed to meet the commitments of the Paris Agreement on climate change.
The built environment sectors must be on a clear path to decarbonise at the latest by 2050 and have made significant progress by 2030, the WGBC said.
Given that the urban built environment is responsible for 75% of annual global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with buildings accounting on its own for 37%, the built environment industries must align their ambitions to accelerate the transition of the infrastructure sector, the WGBC concluded.
The built environment is an interdependent system
The report said that infrastructure and buildings were interdependent in use, have a shared supply chain, and should be considered as part of a system. “Both sectors can’t decarbonise on their own; for example, buildings cannot become net zero if they are not supported by a decarbonised grid, while infrastructure cannot provide net zero energy if there’s no demand."
Over the next 40 years, 230 billion square meters of new buildings will be constructed, the report said, with two thirds of these in countries that do not have any building codes.
The WGBC called for the development of a global framework of principles, to be adapted and verified at the local level, that aligns to the 1.5° emissions trajectory and is applicable to all asset types, all buildings and all infrastructure in all regions.
Global principles at a local level
The principles should set out clear approaches across buildings and infrastructure for decarbonisation that aligns with the trajectory of net zero whole-life carbon emissions reduction. They should also outline how resilience planning for infrastructure and buildings intersect, have a clear approach to the circular economy and resource efficiency, and consider health, wellbeing and social impact across the supply chain.
The WGBC also called for public delivery agencies globally to embed these requirements into all new projects, and for investors to demand the same.
WGBC chief executive Cristina Gamboa said: “In the lead up to the Cities, Regions and Built Environment day at COP26, the importance of considering all aspects of the built environment, both the buildings we live in, and the infrastructure that supports them, is critical for taking a holistic and systemic approach to climate action and sustainable development. If we’re to build a better, brighter future, the infrastructure sector needs to de-link its growth from emissions by embracing a systemic approach which delivers sustainable built environments for everyone, everywhere.”
Richard Palmer, director of global sustainability, Integral Group, said the report highlighted the opportunities for buildings and infrastructure to accelerate climate action at the scale and speed demanded by science. “The built environment is such an important part of addressing both the causes and impacts of climate change."
According to Nigel Topping, UN High Level Climate Champion for COP26, what worked in the built environment and infrastructure sectors in the past will not work in the future.
“The world faces crisis on multiple fronts, which is why we’re putting collaboration in infrastructure and built environment, a sector that contributes 75% of annual global GHG emissions, at the heart of everything we do,” he said.
“Only by forging new partnerships and all-party agreements can we overcome the challenges facing our planet and society today.”