UCL Energy Institute


Despite dip in building emissions due to pandemic, long-term outlook for sector is uncertain

19 October 2021

New report published by Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (GlobalABC), finds incremental improvements in the sector are not enough to counter post-pandemic growth.

Indoor waterfall at Cloud Forest, Singapore.

The economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic caused CO2 emissions from buildings and construction to fall significantly in 2020, but a lack of real transformation in the sector means that emissions will keep rising and contribute to dangerous climate change, according to the 2021 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction.

Lower levels of emissions within the sector were largely due to lockdowns, slowing of economies, difficulties households and businesses faced in maintaining and affording energy access and a fall in construction activity. 

While there have been some incremental improvements in action to decarbonize and improve the energy efficiency of the sector, efforts to decarbonize played only a small role.

With large growth projected in the buildings sector, emissions are set to rise if there is no effort to decarbonize buildings and improve their energy efficiency. 

Energy demand in the buildings and construction sector is likely to rebound as economic recovery efforts take hold and as pent-up demands for new construction are realized.

By 2030, to be on track to achieving a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, the International Energy Agency says that direct building CO2 emissions would need to decrease by 50 per cent. Indirect building sector emissions will have to drop through a reduction of 60 per cent in power generation emissions.To achieve these goals, the report finds, the sector must take advantage of every lever.

The report makes several recommendations for both public and private sectors, including that governments should commit to further decarbonising the power, as well as heating and cooling energy supply, and incorporate building decarbonization targets that contain the so-far largely overlooked embodied carbon, emissions from the production of building materials.

The report was published by the GlobalABC, which is hosted by the UN Environment Programme. The report’s lead authors were Prof Ian Hamilton, Professor of Energy, Environment and Health and Dr Harry Kennard, Research Fellow in Energy, Climate and Health at UCL Energy Institute.