Thinkstep report: 20% of NZ’s carbon emissions from built environment

6 February 2020 by Jason Quinn

A fifth of New Zealand’s carbon emissions is due to our built environment. Unlike other parts of the economy, significantly lowering this sector’s carbon emissions can be done while making everything better. We can reduce carbon while creating warm and healthy buildings durable enough to pass on as a legacy to our children and over a typical mortgage term it will cost less than our current low-performing buildings. It is one case where, as Diana Ürge-Vorsatz puts it, “you can not only have your cake and eat it too—but also get paid to have and eat your cake.”

From the report: “If we consider the full life cycle (construction, use and end-of-life), the contribution of the built environment (ie buildings and infrastructure) increases to approximately 13% of New Zealand’s gross carbon footprint (Fig 1b). If we then adjust for the carbon footprint embodied in our exports (dairy, meat etc) and our imports (cars, trucks, clothes etc), this share climbs to 20% (Fig 1c)—a value that highlights the built environment as a key hotspot in our national carbon footprint.”

Fig 1: A breakdown of New Zealand’s carbon footprint in 2015 from (a) a production perspective, (b) a life cycle perspective and (c) a life cycle consumption perspective.”

The full report is available for download here.

“The new report by Thinkstep, who work with some of the world’s leading companies, shows that New Zealand’s built environment is culpable for belching out approximately 20 per cent of the climate change pollution emitted by New Zealand citizens.

Previous estimates, including last month’s report by the Productivity Commission, suggested that our buildings were responsible for roughly 5% of emissions – and maybe even as low as 2%.

But the new report shows that buildings could amount to 20% of New Zealand’s carbon footprint when considering their lifetime ‘embodied’ emissions and the products and services that New Zealanders consume, rather than those that are destined for offshore markets.”

—from NZGBC’s summary of the report

—6 Feb 2020


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