The construction sector is essential for an economic recovery after the COVID-19 crisis. It can rapidly create large amounts of jobs and involves far-reaching value chains of small and large businesses. In 2015, the sector accounted for 11-13% of global GDP. It is indeed a major employer: 7% of total global employment or 220 million jobs depend on it. Globally, USD 4.5 trillion were spent on construction and renovation of buildings in 2018.
At the same time, the building sector presents a massive – and largely unused – opportunity to respond to the climate crisis. The construction and operation of buildings is responsible for 40% of all energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, even more than transport or industry. This trend is accelerating, as the building floor area is set to double by 2060, and energy demand is growing fast.
The building sector holds the potential for a double win: providing a powerful tool to stimulate the economy, while moving the whole sector to a new and greener state. For small extra investments, green buildings can achieve massive long-term savings of cost and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that realizing the potential of sustainable buildings will save USD 1.1 trillion by 2050. Nevertheless, the real estate business is slow to change its way of doing things and mobilize these small extra investments without external nudges in the form of legal obligations or incentives.
Therefore, we have at this moment of global crisis a unique opportunity to shift the course of the building sector and earmark investments for green construction. Governments all over the globe are devising the best strategies to deal with the crisis, under enormous time pressure. If we aim for “business-as-usual,” we will repeat or even aggravate the mistakes of the past. Instead, we need to urgently change the path of the building sector to move towards green buildings, or even zero-carbon buildings.
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