Embodied Carbon & Embodied Energy in Australia’s Buildings

Photo credit: Ethan Lee

20 Aug 2021

While operational carbon and operational energy are much more visible due to ongoing energy costs, embodied carbon and embodied energy represent the hidden impacts of buildings – impacts that are largely locked in before the building is even occupied.

New research from GBCA and thinkstep-anz with support from the Australian Government’s Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, provides an important evidence base for the current state of embodied carbon and embodied energy in Australia’s buildings. This report calculates embodied carbon – the emissions generated during the manufacture, construction, maintenance and demolition of buildings – and embodied energy in commercial and residential buildings. It compares the 2019 baseline year to a 2050 business-as-usual scenario to show what could happen without deliberate action on embodied emissions.

Behind our hidden emissions lies a huge opportunity.

Key findings:

  • Embodied carbon made up 16 per cent of Australia’s built environment emissions in 2019. 
  • Without intervention this share will balloon to 85 per cent in 2050 at a time when Australia must achieve net zero emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.
  • Material efficiency in the built environment plays an important role because emissions are saved immediately. Even a 10% reduction in embodied emissions in new buildings would correspond to at least 19.9 Mt CO2e avoided between 2022 and 2030 and at least 63.5 Mt CO2e avoided between 2022 and 2050.
  • Making Australia a leader in low emissions products will help to future-proof energy-intensive industries locally, helping to maintain their global competitiveness in a low-carbon world.
  • Changes to embodied carbon requires systemic change along the length of the supply chain using supply-side and demand-side strategies. 
  • There is a clear need for governments to support suppliers as they decarbonise and for investment in research and development of new materials and practices. 

Read GBCA’s media release

Also available: thinkstep-anz’s analysis

Read the full report