Challenges and opportunities for the construction industry: Climate change

Global climate change has been making itself increasingly felt in recent years with heat waves, forest fires, flooding, heavy rain and severe weather. This is having a massive impact, including on the construction industry. New solutions are needed to make buildings and entire cities more resilient and to drive the energy transition. For all experts in the planning and construction industry, it is therefore particularly important to monitor the factors leading to climate change and to identify the challenges at an early stage. Learn more about this at BAU 2023 and experience innovative approaches to climate change solutions from the construction industry.

Construction industry and climate change: 5 reasons for global warming

One of the most hotly debated topics of our time is climate change. To a large extent, the events intertwined with climate change, such as global warming, are also due to human actions as an intervention in nature. The following five reasons deserve special mention here:

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  • Humans have a major impact: actions such as deforestation or even land clearing, soil sealing or irrigation change land surfaces and thus contribute to global warming.
  • CO2 emissions are strongest negative factor: since the industrial age, the increase of CO2 emissions leads to the earth surface warming. These emissions contribute to an enhanced greenhouse effect.
  • Aerosols change temperatures: the burning of fossil fuels and wind erosion in agriculture produce aerosols that can both warm and cool the air layers.
  • Fewer natural CO2 stores available: The fewer forests, rainforests, peatlands, and wetlands there are on Earth, the fewer CO2 reservoirs there are. This increases the warming effect because the CO2 stored in them is then released into the atmosphere.
  • High proportion of coal-fired power generation: energy and power supply is based at a high level on fossil fuels, which are major CO2 emitters. The German government has passed legislation on the phase-out of coal-fired power generation. All coal-fired power plants are to be taken off the grid by 2038 at the latest.

For activities in the construction industry, climate change is a significant issue because the energy used for buildings consists of precisely these fossil fuels. Fossil energy used in the construction industry alone accounts for 25 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union.

Mitigating climate change with sustainability: What does that mean in the construction industry?

The construction industry has an opportunity to mitigate climate change through sustainable processes and energy-efficient construction and design. The key points of sustainability in construction are: using existing resources consciously, reducing energy and raw material consumption, and protecting the environment. Here, the entire life cycle is considered, from planning and construction to the use and deconstruction of buildings. The three pillars of sustainability stand for this:

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  • ecology: ecological sustainability minimizes the consumption of energy and resources, thus promoting energy-efficient planning and construction, reducing land consumption and placing as little burden on the environment as possible.
  • economy: economic sustainability optimizes costs, including construction and utilization expenditures. In the economic aspect, it improves the timing of renewal and maintenance cycles as well as investments.
  • social: social sustainability aims at the urban or landscape organization of social and cultural systems with a view on future generations.

Energy-efficient planning and construction as a driver of the future

The three pillars of sustainability are becoming increasingly important as extreme weather conditions become part of our everyday lives - as evidenced not least by the dry spells, heat waves and heavy downpours of recent years. And the construction industry is doubly affected by climate change: On the one hand, it needs to find solutions that make urban and rural areas more resistant to extreme weather conditions. On the other hand, it is called upon to help implement the goals of the energy transition - climate neutrality by 2045. Energy-efficient design and construction are essential to counter climate change.

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BAU 2019, Hall B2

Solid components for the building industry in the face of climate change

In order for buildings to provide protection against extreme weather conditions, they must be stable and solidly built. Robust construction is the keyword. The building envelope plays a crucial role here, because solid components are capable of both storing heat and protecting against storms. Concepts that can cope with heavy rainfall in cities with sealed surfaces are in demand. This is because infiltration-capable traffic surfaces, urban green spaces or green roofs can store rainwater for a short time or allow it to seep away in a targeted manner to relieve the burden on the sewer system. So-called "sponge cities" are forward-looking.

Green renovation wave with ecological building materials

Since more than a third of EU-wide greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to the construction industry, the responsibility is particularly great. Nowadays, new buildings are subject to strict guidelines that follow sustainability principles. Especially when it comes to heating and cooling. But old buildings also follow the sustainable motto and are renovated to avoid the use of exclusively new building materials. Here, the entire construction industry must think along with us and convert old buildings sustainably.

In order to achieve decarbonization—and thus a permanently carbon-free construction industry—ecologically valuable, sustainable building materials are also required. This is the only way the construction industry can mitigate climate change.