Governments urged to cut emissions from public construction projects

Governments across the world are being urged to slash carbon emissions from public construction projects by ensuring they use emerging low and zero emission materials as standard from 2030 at the latest.

The UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) this week unveiled a new Green Public Procurement Pledge at the Clean Energy Ministerial meeting in Pittsburgh, detailing plans for governments and public sector bodies to catalyse demand for low-carbon steel, cement, and concrete for key construction projects.

According to UNIDO, these materials currently contribute the largest share of industrial carbon emissions, with steel and cement accounting for 50 per cent of all industrial emissions.

At the same time governments are among the biggest purchasers of such commodities, using the materials for public construction projects such as buildings, roads, railways, and other transportation infrastructure, as well as energy projects such as hydroelectric dams and wind turbines.

As such, the UN said that governments could play a critical role in encouraging the steel, concrete and cement industries to embrace emerging low carbon production techniques that take advantage of hydrogen or carbon capture technologies to slash emissions.

“All actors must accelerate progress towards net-zero goals,” said Rana Ghoneim, head of UNIDO’s Energy Systems and Industrial Decarbonisation Unit and coordinator of the international Industrial Deep Decarbonisation Initiative (IDDI) coalition that released the pledge. “Government commitments to buy green can make a pivotal difference.” 

Tareq Emtairah, director of UNIDO’s Decarbonisation and Sustainable Energy Division, also highlighted the huge potential for governments to drive industrial decarbonisation. “Steel, cement and concrete are the building blocks of our modern world,” he said. “Demand for these materials is high and rising but they are also responsible for the largest share of industrial greenhouse gas emissions.

“Decarbonising these industries is challenging but it is urgent. That is why coordinated action at the global level is more than ever needed today.”

The pledge includes targets announced at last year’s COP26 in Glasgow to ensure that all carbon emissions of steel, cement and concrete used in publicly-funded construction projects are monitored and disclosed, with a view to delivering net zero emissions by 2050.

National and sub-national government entities including states, provinces and cities will be asked to sign-up to one or more pledge levels and will be encouraged to be “as ambitious as possible” to make specific green procurement commitments following national consultations.

“Government leadership, including through its massive buying power, provides a crucial signal to companies and investors to commit to the clean industrial revolution,” said Dan Dorner, the Clean Energy Ministerial’s Head of Secretariat. “I hope others will be inspired to join these international efforts to supercharge the transition to clean industrial products.”

The news comes in the same week as the government and industry-backed Mission Possible Partnership (MPP) published a series of new roadmaps, detailing how it was now technically feasible for carbon intensive industries such as steel and aluminium to slash their emissions in line with the net zero transition.

“The imperative is to act now, to demonstrate that green procurement can drive decarbonisation of carbon emissions-intensive industries,” said Matt Rogers, chief executive officer of the MPP. “Pledges met in this decade will enable industries to adopt cleaner, greener processes and technologies.”

In related news, building materials group Holcim this week announced it has partnered with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) to launch a new 1.5C science-based framework to help decarbonise the cement industry.

The framework was developed by SBTi alongside a consortium of expert advisors representing academia, civil society, and industry who are working to develop decarbonised cement.

Holcim said it has submitted its 1.5C-aligned 2030 targets for SBTi validation, and is engaging with like-minded organisations at New York Climate Week to scale up the framework’s deployment.  

“With today’s growing population and rising urbanisation, the construction sector has a key role to play to build a net-zero future,” said Jan Jenisch, chief executive officer at Holcim. “At Holcim, we are at the forefront of decarbonising building across its entire lifecycle to build better with less, from our own operations to low carbon construction, all the way to energy-efficient buildings in use. Taking a rigorous, science-driven approach on this journey, we partnered with the SBTi to create the 1.5C-aligned framework for the sector.”

The new commitment was welcomed by Alberto Carrillo Pineda, co-founder and chief technical officer of the SBTi, who said: “To prevent the climate crisis from getting worse and the negative impacts becoming more frequent with every fraction of warming, urgent action from the private sector is required. For the first time, cement companies have a clear blueprint on how to align their decarbonisation strategies with climate science taking into account the unique context of the industry. The transformation towards low-carbon technologies is critical for the long-term viability of the industry. We encourage all cement production companies to set science-based targets and to play their role in building a climate safe economy.”

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