Building a net zero future? Construction sector ‘dangerously behind’ on climate

New research has laid bare a widespread lack of environmental preparedness across companies responsible for building a greener planet. 

The first Buildings Benchmark report, published today by the World Benchmarking Alliance alongside CDP, a global leader in environmental disclosure systems, paints a stark picture of the construction industry’s climate readiness. Overall, the majority of firms in the sector do not have climate transition plans in place, and almost half are lacking effective routes to reducing emissions. 

The investigation looked at 50 highly influential building and development companies, and found that 54% have so far neglected to create policies that will ease their climate transition path. Meanwhile, 44% do not currently have a viable plan for reducing emissions. The latter is particularly worrying, considering 37% of total worldwide emissions come from the industry itself. 

Causes for concern go further still. Just five of the 36 firms deemed to have ‘significant development or construction activities’ had net zero targets that included the in-use emissions of buildings. None have a robust road map for how only zero carbon ready buildings will be delivered by their target year.

‘Building companies don’t have low carbon strategies in place, but neither are they thinking about people. Only a few companies within the Buildings Benchmark are engaged with topics that are necessary for a just transition. The lack of plans and action by companies could risk the success of the low-carbon transition and could lead to increased inequality, mass unemployment and civil unrest,’ said Vicky Sins, Decarbonisation and Energy Lead at WBA. 

‘Despite the fact that buildings are built by and for people, no one is taking accountability for the people who work or live in buildings. We need every company in the building sector to step up efforts to accelerate the transition to more efficient buildings and more sustainable materials and resources. But for the transition to be just, it is essential that companies consider the millions of workers who will need to reskill or retrain. Not a single company is currently planning the transition for their workforce,’ she continued. 

Analysis also reinforced the idea that, due to the lifespan of buildings, choices being made within construction today risk locking emissions in up to and beyond net zero target dates, or jeopardise the ability to decarbonise at speed.

In order to glean these results, the team responsible for the study used the Assessing low-Carbon Transition (ACT) methodology, created to drive climate action by benchmarking companies against advanced, science-based metrics. Organisations including JLL, Brookfield, China Evergrande, Country Garde, Greenland Holdings, Vonovia, New World Development, SEGRO, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, Ayala, Gecina, Hyundai E&C, Lendlease, LEG Immobilien, Macrotech, Godrej, Mitsubishi Estate and Prologis, were included.

The list covers operations across 91 countries and regions, including China, the USA and Europe. While the majority were found to be failing on their environmental responsibilities, there were exceptions. Gecina was the only company that has targets set for the delivery of zero carbon ready buildings in line with International Energy Agency net zero scenario framework. This means all new buildings delivered from 2030 onwards will be zero-carbon ready. 

Just two companies – Gecina and and LEG Immobillien – are currently developing zero-carbon ready buildings within property development operations. JLL, URW, HDEC, and Mitsui also performed comparatively well in terms of alignment with a net zero future.  All firms that ranked positively are based in countries with net zero emissions targets of 2050 or sooner.

You can read the full report here.

‘The findings from the Buildings Benchmark are alarming. Across the sector we see a lack of the urgent action required if we are to reduce emissions at the scale required. Climate transition plans that include financial commitments are crucial to ensure that companies’ targets are realistic and achievable,’ said Amir Sokolowski, CDP’s Global Director of Climate Change.

‘A climate transition plan should outline how a company plans to align with a 1.5°C world. It must include commitments with clear timescales for their implementation, as well as tracking measures of success. The 54% of companies in the benchmark who currently lack transition plans must urgently put these in place and companies must continue to disclose their commitments and actions to ensure they are kept transparent and accountable,’ he continued.

Revisit Environment Journal‘s recent opinion piece, which looks at the process of undergoing Environmental Impact Assessments for construction projects. 





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