Is the COP27 Focus on AEC Carbon Emissions Telling the Whole Story?

Construction sustainability continues to be an emphasis for international leaders. COP27, the UN’s gathering of more than 90 heads of state and 35,000 delegates from 190 countries, convened earlier in early November to discuss unified action against climate change and which industries need to take on a bulk of the responsibility to adjust operations and in turn reduce carbon emissions.

Chief on that list was the larger built environment, which was given extra attention considering the last year of studies have credited the AEC industry with “38%, or around 14 gigatons, of all energy-related GHG emissions each year” according to Arup and WBCSD research, as well as an increase of 5% in operational emissions between 2020 and 2021, according to Global ABC research.

Addressing emissions challenges, creating unity around 2030 climate goals, and driving toward sustainable practices is key for the AEC industry. But is this focus by COP27 a complete one, considering the various layers of the built environment that contribute to carbon emissions? Paul Doherty, AIA, IFMA Fellow and DFC Senior Fellow, recognized smart city thought leader, and founder of the digit group, tries to paint a more holistic picture of where the AEC industry needs to address its role in reducing carbon emissions.

Paul’s Thoughts on COP27

“So here’s the thing. COP27 in Egypt just ended and there was a good focus this year on the AEC community, architecture, engineering, construction community. What they’re saying is that we account for approximately 40% of all carbon emissions, both design and construction, and through demolition, that there’s a lot of embodied carbon in our processes.

That’s true, but I’m sick and tired of the finger waving that’s going on to architects, engineers, and contractors when there’s another whole side of the story, having to deal with building product manufacturers. I think if there’s a focus there, we can elicit some real change because most of these building product manufacturers are publicly traded. And what we’ve learned is that earnings reports are very important, but so are ESGs.

With the advent of smart contracts, we now have a way of having two pieces of data that are going to be put into a contractual basis that can’t be changed, that we can now track from design and construction into the actual performance of these materials over a life cycle. Exciting times.”

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