For APAC, the climate emergency is even more critical, as it is one of the world’s most vulnerable regions to climate change. Photo by NASA on Unsplash

The World Green Building Council has called for net zero emission by 2050 in the Asia Pacific region along with a primer on getting there.

The Asia Pacific Embodied Carbon Primer highlights what embodied carbon is, where it occurs throughout a building and infrastructure asset’s lifecycle, and how tackling it can catalyse APAC to rebuild better post-COVID.

It sets out key actions that can be taken today by businesses, government and civil society to “raise awareness, set ambitions, drive demand and make substantial progress in reducing embodied carbon of projects, materials and products”.

“For APAC, the climate emergency is even more critical, as it is one of the world’s most vulnerable regions to climate change,” Victoria Burrows, director, Advancing Net Zero, WorldGBC said.

“In 2018 alone, almost half of the world’s 281 natural disaster events occurred in the region, including eight of the 10 deadliest, with an increasing number of these events being linked to environmental degradation and climate change.”

In terms of global population, already around 60 per cent currently live in APAC, and the region is projected to have even more significant growth, along with new buildings and infrastructure constructed over the coming decades.

Of the 4.3 billion people living in APAC, more than 2 billion live in urban areas, and projections show this will increase to 3.3 billion by 2050.

The report states that, with such a large projected growth, mitigating embodied carbon over the coming years is essential to minimising the negative impacts on the environment and maximising economic opportunities to maintain competitiveness in an increasingly low-carbon economy.

“The built environment sector can provide powerful solutions to the climate crisis. With buildings responsible for 39 per cent of global energy-related carbon emissions and building stock expected to double by 2050, the time to act is now,” Ms Burrows warned.

“To achieve net-zero targets by mid-century and sustain predicted growth and urbanisation, we must decarbonise the whole lifecycle of our built assets – buildings and infrastructure.

Victoria Burrows

“If we act now, great opportunity awaits for APAC to create economic benefits, competitiveness advantage and minimise the consequences of catastrophic climate change.”

According to the report, this means not only the emissions released during operation, but also during the manufacturing, transportation, construction, maintenance, repair and end-of-life phases.

It’s these emissions that are commonly referred to as embodied carbon, and have largely been overlooked, despite contributing around 11 per cent of all global energy-related carbon emissions and 28 per cent of building sector emissions.

“At the asset level, carbon emissions released before the building or infrastructure begins to be used will be responsible for half of the entire carbon footprint of new construction between now and 2050,” the report stated.

“As operational carbon is reduced, embodied carbon will continue to grow in importance as a proportion of total emissions.

“While we must continue to focus on addressing operational carbon, we must rapidly increase efforts to tackle embodied carbon emissions at a global scale too.”

While opportunities for embodied carbon reduction will vary between projects, the greatest savings can usually be realised at the earliest stages of a project, so putting embodied carbon on the agenda from the outset is a must.

And although the appropriate method for assessing embodied carbon will vary depending on the type of actor and what is being assessed, the report highlights three common methods for projects and products – Lifecycle Assessment (LCA), Environmental Product Declarations, and prescriptive-based tools.

The opportunity for APAC

Unlike operational carbon reduction, which has seen great strides through initiatives and government regulation, progress in addressing embodied carbon has been slower, due to the lack of awareness and available information.

“A great opportunity awaits for APAC to create positive economic benefits, maintain business competitiveness, and minimise the consequences of catastrophic climate change in a vulnerable region,” the report stated.

“There is currently a lack of incentives from policymakers encouraging reduction of embodied carbon, with most focused on improving efficiency within building operations.

“By putting in place supportive policy, incentives, roadmaps and public procurement guidelines to address embodied carbon, we can build back better to drive demand and ambition from the private sector and keep climate action goals on track.”

The primer concludes with over 35 high-level actions that can be taken across six different stakeholder groups to start right now on reducing embodied carbon.

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