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The Role of the Building and Construction Sector in Global Emissions

What impact does the building and construction sector have on carbon footprint and how to address them?

Prof Dhaval Monani, Affordable Housing, Anant Centre for Sustainability, Anant National University
Dr. Sharadbala Joshi, Senior Researcher and Visiting Faculty, Anant Centre for Sustainability, Anant National University

The building and construction sector plays a major role in the global climate scenario, significantly influencing 21 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption. As the world confronts the pressing imperative of addressing climate change, this article explores the building and construction sector’s profound impact on carbon footprint. It delves into the dynamics of energy demand, greenhouse gas emissions, and the important need for sustainable practices. 

Global Impact and Energy Consumption

The building and construction sector is a major consumer of energy, responsible for 34% of the global energy demand and 37% of energy and process-related carbon dioxide emissions. A significant portion of these emissions, approximately 11%, is attributed to the manufacturing of construction materials like steel, cement, lime, brick, and glass. This sector’s influence extends beyond the manufacturing of materials to the operational energy demand of buildings, encompassing heating, cooling, lighting, and cooking, which has seen a 4% increase from 2020.

India’s Construction Sector: A Growing Contributor to Climate Change

In India, the construction sector contributes 10.5% to the total economic output and is a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for 32% of the national total. This includes both operational and embodied emissions, with around 80% of these emissions stemming from the production of materials such as cement, bricks, steel, and lime. Additionally, the construction sector in India generates over 35% of all solid waste, highlighting the urgent need for waste reduction, recycling, and reuse practices.

The Urgent Need for Recycling and Reuse

With the anticipated doubling of building stock in India and other developing countries over the next two decades, the demand for building materials will skyrocket. Simultaneously, the demolition of older buildings will increase, underscoring the critical need for recycling and reusing buildings and building materials. However, India faces a significant challenge in this area, with less than 20 functional recycling facilities nationwide and less than 5% of construction and demolition waste being recycled.

Towards a Sustainable Future

According to Inger Andersen, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, “There is no credible path to address climate change without a fundamental shift in the building and construction sector”.  The statement emphasises the necessity of a fundamental shift in the building and construction sector to combat climate change effectively. This shift involves moving towards low carbon, climate-resilient development that encompasses both mitigation and adaptation strategies.

The global and Indian contexts starkly illustrate the building and construction sector’s role in exacerbating climate change, but they also highlight the immense opportunity for sustainability. Implementing strategies to reduce waste at the source, along with salvaging, reusing, and recycling building components, are crucial steps towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions and achieving a sustainable future.

Conclusion

The building and construction sector’s significant impact on global and local environments emphasise the urgent need for a paradigm shift towards sustainability. By focusing on energy efficiency, waste reduction, and the recycling and reuse of materials, this sector can transform from a major contributor to climate change into a key player in the global effort to combat it. For countries like India, where rapid urbanisation and construction are ongoing, adopting sustainable practices is not just a choice but a necessity for future development and environmental preservation.

About Authors;

Dr. Sharadbala Joshi, Senior Researcher and Visiting Faculty, Anant Centre for Sustainability, Anant National University

The author is a renowned architect and planner, who brings over 35 years of expertise in fostering inclusive and community-centered approaches to slum upgrading, redevelopment, and resettlement. Her extensive research focuses on initiatives aimed at achieving sustainable improvements in informal settlements, ranging from assisted self-help housing to community-led resettlement projects across Sri Lanka, Mongolia, East Africa, and various cities in India. With a background in architecture from CEPT, Ahmedabad, an MSc in Human Settlements Development from the Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand, and a Ph.D. from Loughborough University, UK, Sharadbala possesses a diverse skill set to address complex urban challenges.

Prof Dhaval Monani, Affordable Housing, Anant Centre for Sustainability, Anant National University

The author is a seasoned professional with a diverse background, serves as the Director of Affordable Housing at Anant National University. He is also the founder and Managing Director of First Home Realty Solutions Private Limited and M Cube ProCon Private Limited. With an MBA from IESE Business School in Barcelona and a double Masters in Design from the University of Wales at Cardiff,he brings a unique blend of management expertise and multidisciplinary design knowledge to his work. He has been a driving force in the affordable housing sector in India, pioneering solutions for low-cost housing and urbanization initiatives. Dhaval’s extensive experience includes founding various ventures such as ADD. Ventures and Integrated Sourcing, and working with International Housing Solutions (IHS) on affordable housing projects across the globe. He is deeply passionate about urbanization, affordable housing, financial instruments related to real estate, and human-centric design.

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