‘Construction fever’ responsible for one fifth of China’s CO2 emissions

‘Construction fever’ responsible for one fifth of China’s CO2 emissions

Carbon Brief, Josh Gabbatiss


The construction and demolition of buildings in China was responsible for nearly a fifth of the nation’s annual CO2 emissions in 2015, according to a new study.

The world’s largest emitter has seen building rates soar as existing structures are torn down and replaced with skyscrapers to house the nation’s rapidly urbanising population.

All of this comes with a significant carbon footprint, both to produce the cement, steel and other materials required and from the emissions produced once the project is underway.

The researchers behind the new study, published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, say this has not received enough attention in China, despite being an “unignorable and critical” component of the nation’s emissions.

However, other academics Carbon Brief talked to said that while China’s construction “boom” is undoubtedly carbon-intensive, there are “issues” with the methods used in this analysis.

‘Construction fever’

A growing urban population and land scarcity have contributed to significant growth in construction – particularly of high-rise buildings – across China.

Since 2010, China has been responsible for around half of the world’s growth in construction, with many buildings only standing for around 30 years before being demolished. 

Their construction, maintenance and demolition all come with a carbon cost. Previous studies have estimated that the energy consumption of China’s building sector has more than tripled since 2001.

Xinyi Shen from Greenpeace East Asia tells Carbon Brief that, given this, it is not surprising that China’s “construction fever” is a primary driver of its emissions.

However, in the new study, a team led by PhD candidate Weina Zhu of Tsinghua University, make the distinction between “operational” and “embodied” CO2 emissions, emphasizing the need to focus on the latter.

Embodied CO2 is defined in the paper as total emissions from “building materials manufacturing and transportation, building construction, maintenance and demolition”. Operational emissions are those arising from day-to-day energy use – for example, lighting, heating and cooling.

The authors say that operational carbon is generally assumed to be the primary contributor to the sector’s emissions, meaning strategies have focused on improving the energy efficiency of buildings.

However, they say that if China is to hit its climate target of peaking emissions in 2030, it will need to make embodied emissions a priority.

Time lapse showing the development that has taken place in Shanghai between 1984-2018. Source: Google Earth Engine

Bottom-up and top-down

The researchers looked at building activity throughout 2015, a year when Chinese economic stimulus – and the construction it helps drive – was reportedly at relatively low levels.

To estimate the embodied CO2 for construction that year – excluding civil engineering projects, such as bridges and roads – the researchers used two different approaches.

First, they used a process-based assessment. This was a “bottom-up” method that involved working out the total emissions of all the processes feeding into Chinese construction, from chemical reactions in cement factories to machinery used on building sites.

For the second assessment they used an input-output model. This was a “top-down” approach for which the team took national data and isolated the relevant components.

One of the paper’s co-authors, Dr Wei Feng, tells Carbon Brief this is “the first systematic analysis” of China’s embodied CO2 emissions using both of these methods.

Results based on the process approach showed that the embodied carbon in the Chinese building sector for that year was 1,422m tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2), while the input-output method settled on 1,600MtCO2.

Based on the upper estimate, they note this was approximately 18% of total Chinese emissions reported in 2015.

Residential buildings had around twice the emissions cost of non-residential buildings. The study notes how China’s housing has shifted from brick and wood to reinforced concrete and steel high-rise structures.

Crucially, the researchers say their estimate puts embodied CO2 roughly on a par with past estimates of operational CO2.

Dr Francesco Pomponi, an engineer at Edinburgh Napier University who was not involved in the study, tells Carbon Brief this seems more plausible than many other comparisons between operational and embodied CO2:

“Previous assessments we have had suggested 20% embodied, 80% operational or less than that, whereas this study is pointing towards a more realistic picture – about half and half.”

As a comparison, a report from last year by the World Green Building Council concluded 11% of annual global emissions were from carbon embodied in building construction processes. Nearly three times as much came from operational building emissions.

While around 10% of European states’ annual emissions can be traced to embodied building carbon, Pomponi says a value of roughly double this seems accurate for an economy such as China.

“I go every year so I see the difference year after year in how much built stock was added in 12 months,” he says.

‘Red flags’

However, Dr Jannik Giesekam, an industrial climate policy researcher at the University of Leeds who has worked extensively in this area but was not involved in the study, tells Carbon Brief he identified numerous “red flags” in the research.

While he thinks the researchers probably arrived at the right “ballpark figure”, he has “major” issues with the paper that he thinks compromise the results.

One of the key points he identified was that the paper overlooked a lot of pre-existing work on embodied carbon, including databases prepared by industry “in favour of a selective set of case studies”.

He also says the paper does not make a comparison with previous estimates for China or to previous systematic reviews prepared by the likes of the International Energy Agency (IEA).

While acknowledging some of these points as valid, Feng says they chose case studies that reflect current Chinese common practices and that they could not retrieve the relevant emissions data from the industry databases Giesekam suggests. 

“Overall, it would be different and unrealistic to use international emission data and best practices to represent China’s emission in 2015,” he tells Carbon Brief.

For his part, Pomponi says that while Giesekam’s criticism is valid, he sees things “slightly differently”. He says: “I think it’s impossible that a study incorporates everything that’s out there.”

Giesekam also notes what he sees as some unusual choices in the way the researchers carried out the study, including a lack of detail in both their “bottom-up” and “top down” calculations – for example, giving all steel the same “carbon factor”.

Feng says that while they would “love this study to go deeper” and describes his team’s work in this area as on-going, he notes they used a “simple approach” that involved taking averages of steel and cement data:

“That is why we also employ a top-down method to cross-validate the bottom-up method calculation to make sure the total emission results match with each other.”

To this point, Pomponi tells Carbon Brief it is “inevitable to sacrifice depth for breadth in academic research” and says that, while there are certainly issues with the paper, he thinks it is valuable to see different methods being used to assess embodied carbon:

“It’s really good they used two [approaches] and compared them. They are extremely different methods so it’s good that they seem to point to the same number.”

Construction workers on a residential building site in Huaian city, China. Credit: Imaginechina Limited / Alamy Stock Photo.

Cutting embodied CO2

The researchers say that on a global scale, the relatively limited attention paid to embodied carbon is preventing an accurate assessment of the building sector’s environmental impacts.

Dr Danielle Densley Tingley, an architectural engineer at the University of Sheffield who was not involved in the work, says these emissions are generally not given sufficient attention by nations setting climate targets. She tells Carbon Brief this is partly due to the way they are reported:

“They’re often lumped into ‘industrial emissions’. This focuses on the production of the materials – where there are only small efficiencies left to gain – but doesn’t really look at how the materials are then used, what is driving their consumption etc.”

She says better design and a focus on “deep retrofits” instead of demolition would help cut embodied emissions in buildings. Pomponi agrees that design lies at the heart of this issue:

“At the moment we are inefficient in the sense that we put more material than is actually needed into buildings … Firms tend to go with ‘rules of thumb’ or things that worked in the past rather than starting from scratch.”

Measures have been proposed to cut these emissions in some countries. The World Green Building Council has set a target of 40% less embodied carbon in all new buildings, infrastructure and renovations by 2030.

The authors of the new study estimate that, despite a focus on operational carbon emissions in China, the annual potential for reductions in the building sector could actually be larger for embodied than operational CO2.

Greenpeace East Asia’s Shen says that after years of intensive construction the situation is shifting and, going forward, the Chinese authorities are going to have to be “extremely careful” about what they build:

“The country has entered into a new stage of development in that blindly putting up more infrastructure is not only environmentally unsustainable but also will not keep the same investment return the country yielded in the last decades.”

Zhu, W. et al. (2020) Analysis of the embodied carbon dioxide in the building sector: A case of China, Journal of Cleaner Production, doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2020.122438


‘Construction fever’ responsible for one fifth of China’s CO2 emissions

Josh Gabbatiss

Originally published under a CC license by Carbon Brief on 9 June 2020

Published under a CC license. You are welcome to reproduce unadapted material in full for non-commercial use, credited ‘Carbon Brief’ with a link to the article.

collections care & engineered resilience

As the markets for works of art, collections care, and engineered resilience in the built environment (private collections, museums – public and private, galleries, fairs, corporate and university collections, etc.) converge, renewable energy will be a factor.

“Underlying property increases in value by virtue of the fact that positive externalities associated with the performance of the resilience investments represents a superior outcome to the status quo – even when netted out by any costs.” (Keenan et.al.)

Companies have signed long-term contracts to purchase solar and wind energy in 28 markets.

Cost declines and efficiency improvements are making renewables cost-competitive with wholesale power prices of more traditional sources of electricity.

While larger corporations are entering into corporate power purchase agreements (PPA),

smaller companies are increasingly pooling electricity demand together to access economies of scale achieved through solar and wind projects.

This is called “aggregation.”

“Aggregation” might be a workable model for entities in the art market concerned about the long-term resilience of structures and care and value of works and collections.

See: 1) Jesse M. Keenan, Thomas Hill, Anurag Gumber, “Climate Gentrification: From Theory to Empiricism in Miami-Dade County,” IOPScience, 23 April 2018; 2) “Corporations Already Purchased Record Clean Energy Volumes in 2018, and It’s Not an Anomaly,” Bloomberg New Energy Finance, 9 August 2018


#art #artmarket #museum #privatemuseum #collection #contemporaryart #energy #co2 #wind #solar #renewableenergy #resilience #resilienceengineering #architecture #design #engineering #NewYork #Miami #LosAngeles #London #Paris #Amsterdam #Stockholm #Oslo #Berlin #Vienna #Dubai #HongKong #Shanghai #Beijing #Tokyo #Delhi #realestate

private museums | Oslo’s Astrup Fearnley Museet

The Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art is a privately owned contemporary art museum in Oslo, Norway. The museum was funded by two philanthropic organizations, the Thomas Fearnley Foundation and the Heddy and Nils Astrup Foundation, that merged in 1995 to form the Thomas Fearnley, Heddy and Nils Astrup Foundation.

Established and opened to the public in 1993, the museum moved into two new buildings in 2012.

The two new buildings, located in the Tjuvholmen skulpturpark along the banks of the Oslofjord in the center of Oslo, are designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano (who also designed New York’s new Whitney Museum of American Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the Fondation Beyeler in Riehen, Switzerland).

The collecting focus of the museum is Norwegian and international contemporary art. Artists represented include Olafur Eliasson, Francis Bacon, Janine Antoni, Dan Colen, Cao Fei, Olav Christoper Jenssen, Elmgreen & Dragset, Jeff Koons, Fischli & Weiss, Sigmar Polke, Richard Prince, Charles Ray, Gerhard Richter, Torbjørn Rødland, Matthew Ronay, Cindy Sherman, and Christopher Wool.


Astrup Fearnley Museet, www.afmuseet.no/en/hjem;

Astrup Fearnley Museum, Oslo, Norge,” GoNorway


#art #artmarket #contemporaryart #museums #privatemuseums #collection #collector #dancolen #olavchristopherjenssen #christopherwool #torbjørnrødland #francisbacon #signarpolke #gerhardrichter #astrupfearnley #astrupfearnleymuseet #oslo #norway #renzopiano #architecture #design #engineering #whitneymuseum #whitney #lacma #centrepompidou #fondationbeyeler #newyork #paris #losangeles #riehen #hongkong #luxury #realestate #philanthropy

R8 Property’s energy positive Powerhouse Telemark

Powerhouse Telemark, an energy positive (producing more energy than it consumes) 6,500-square-meter (70,000-square-foot), 11-story office building, has been commissioned by real estate developer Emil Eriksrød for the Norwegian town of Porsgrunn.

Eriksrød has commissioned the American-Norwegian architecture and design firm Snøhetta to design the building. Powerhouse Telemark is set to be completed in February of 2019.

 “The future is all about thinking big, bold, and long term,” says Snøhetta founding partner Kjetil Trædal Thorson, “and we need someone to pave the way. With its innovative solutions and design, we believe this building will inspire commercial real estate developers worldwide to push the limits of what buildings can accomplish”.

“The world needs a lot of energy-positive buildings,” observes the developer, Emil Eriksrød, CEO of R8 Property. “I hope we will be plagiarized and copied, replicated in all seven continents.”

“This building should do wonders in lowering the bar for daring to do both spectacular and environmentally forward buildings, hopefully in a combination”.


Snøhetta Designs World’s Northernmost Energy Positive Building in Norway,” Patrick Lynch, ArchDaily, 18 January 2017

Snøhetta designs ‘potentially world-changing office building’ for small Norwegian town,” Amy Frearson, Dezeen, 19 January 2017


#powerhousetelemark #emileriksrød #r8property # snøhetta #porsgrunn #norway #design #architecture #engineering #realestatedevelopment #realestate #commercialrealestate #energy #energypositive #solar #solarenergy #co2 #resilience #luxury #art #artmarket #collections #collectionsmanagement #museums #newyork #berlin #milan #beijing #shanghai #hongkong #seoul #taipei #jakarta #singapore

Paris floods | the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, & the Musée de l’Orangerie launch their Plans de Protection Contre les Inondations (PPCI)

The Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, and the Musée de l’Orangerie have each launched their Plan de Protection Contre les Inondations (PPCI; protection plan against flooding). The Musée du Louvre has closed the lower level of its department of Islamic Arts until Sunday (28 January) as a “preventive measure” from flood damage.”

See: “Rising River Seine causes closure at Musée du Louvre” | Anna Sansom, The Art Newspaper, 25 January 2018

#Louvre #MuséeduLouvre #Muséed’Orsay #Muséedel’Orangerie #art #artcollections #collectionsmanagement #risk #riskmanagement #Paris #flooding #PPCI #PlandeProtectionContrelesInondations #museums #resilience #luxury #smartluxury #CO2 #realestate #culturalrealestate #design #engineering

Southern California collections management: fire rescue & restoration

Fueled by seasonal winds and dry conditions, Southern California’s Thomas Fire has become the largest, in terms of acreage, since 1932 when reliable recording began. State officials are saying that the 2017 fire season has been the most destructive that people in state have seen.

As of the Vanity Fair December 20 publication of Jane Borden’s article “In Southern California, Even the Art Has a Fire Rescue Plan,” the Thomas Fire had destroyed about 800 homes, nearing Santa Barbara, Montecito, and Ojai, collectively home to the Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, working artists, art collectors, and celebrities.

On the evening of December 4, artists living in Ojai had no time to pack up their work before evacuating. Those with studios in Ventura spent evenings sleeping beside their work.

Works from four collections were moved to purified, closed rooms at the MCASB.

The Santa Barbara Museum of Art, with van and crew ready at short notice, safeguarded works of art, valued at millions of dollars, retrieved from homes in the area.

The Conservation Center of Chicago is described as the “most prepared art-rescue team working in Southern California” during the fire.

As the air quality was rendered “really bad” by the Thomas Fire, teams from The Conservation Center rotated every four or five days. Works of art that were not damaged were stored in a safe location in Los Angeles. Works with minor damages were restored locally. More damaged works of art were shipped to Chicago for full restoration.

An industry leader in rescuing works of art after disasters such as fires or floods, The Conservation Center brings over 30 years of experience caring for individual, private, and public collections.

In addition to restoration and packing and shipping services, The Conservation Center in Chicago specializes in disaster response. The Center’s national clients include corporations, museums, nonprofits, and private collectors, and the response team is trained to triage a variety of situations, most notably flood and fire. This year alone, the 36-person team has responded to hurricane damage in Houston and Miami, and rescued or restored 1,350 works from a Georgia museum damaged by a tornado. Now, the fires. “I’ve been with the company for 29 years, and this is definitely unprecedented, to have these things happening so closely together,“ explains Heather Becker, C.E.O. of The Conservation Center.”


Thomas Fire is Now California’s Largest Wildfire in History” | Doreen McCallister, NPR, 23 December 2017

In Southern California, Even the Art Has a Fire Rescue Plan” | Jane Borden, Vanity Fair, 20 December 2017

The Conservation Center

#art #SouthernCalifornia #ThomasFire #SantaBarbara #Montecito #Ojai #MuseumofContemporaryArtSantaBarbara #MCASB #SantaBarbaraMuseumofArt #SBMA #conservation #rescue #restoration #artcollections #collectionsmanagement #CO2 #luxury #smartluxury #design #architecture #engineering #fireresistance #TheConservationCenter #Chicago #resilience #health #wellness#realestate #culturalrealestate #culturalheritage

HouseZero ・retrofitting a 1924-era wood-frame house

Harvard University’s Center for Green Buildings and Cities, in collaboration with international architecture and design firm Snøhetta, is retrofitting a wood frame house built in 1924 in what is now an historic district of Cambridge, Massachusetts. The house now serves as the Center’s headquarters.

The retrofit is intended to fulfill multiple objectives:

A focus on inefficient existing buildings. In the United States, buildings consume around 40% of energy produced annually. This equates to more than $230 billion spent annually by property owners heating, cooling, and powering the nation’s 123.6 million homes. Housing consumes 18-23% of that.

A focus on using current technologies together with better design.

The use of zero energy for heating and cooling. A retrofitted building that produces more energy than it consumes.

100% natural ventilation and daylight autonomy

Zero CO2 emissions, including embodied energy in materials

A positive rather than a negative impact on the surrounding environment. A house conducive to occupant health, encouraging productivity and creativity.

Use of self-generated data that will allow the building to self-adjust. The house will adjust itself seasonally and daily to achieve thermal comfort targets.

The development of ideas and a working model that can be used by homeowners as they seek to renovate existing houses towards significant energy and carbon use improvements without costly or wasteful tear-downs.

The Center for Green Buildings and Cities will not seek any kind of independent certification, such as USGBC LEED, WELL, or Living Building certification. The intent is, rather, to exceed those standards’ criteria.

The renovation, says Ali Malkawi, professor of architectural technology and founding director of the CGBC, is guided not only by the goal of net zero energy consumption with 100% natural light and ventilation but also by the understanding that a green building is “a sustainable building, which means it has the lowest impact on its surrounding environment as possible. It might have a positive effect on its environment—the surrounding as well as the global.” Such a building is, furthermore, “healthy for its occupants” and encourages productivity and creativity.


Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities unveils HouseZero project, an ambitious retrofit of its Cambridge headquarters” | Travis Dagenais, Harvard Graduate School of Design, 25 May 2017

Harvard’s ‘HouseZero’” | Alisha Ukani, Harvard Magazine, 3 August 2017

Future Home: HouseZero” | Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities”

#architecture #architecturaltechnology #buildingtechnology #technology #design #engineering #netzero #energy #resilience #CO2 #home #luxury #smartluxury #retrofit #homeownership #realestate #commercialrealestate #culturalrealestate #culturalheritage #art #collectionsmanagement #museums #galleries #snøhetta #harvard #harvardcenterforgreenbuildingsandcities #Cambridge #data #health #wellness #family

Architect Stefano Boeri-designed Liuzhou Forest City

Recognizing the capacity of trees and plants to absorb carbon pollution and the critical need for urban forests, Italian architect and urban planner Stefano Boeri has contributed to the design of Liuzhou Forest City, now under construction in China.

Intended to help provide homes for a rapidly growing population without creating more carbon pollution, the plan calls for terraced buildings with almost a million plants and 40,000 trees.

Should you have interest in tangible assets such as works of art, art collections, luxury, and/or real estate, all of which interact physically with their surroundings and all of which are affected by carbon pollution (excess of CO2), this news will be of interest.

Should you wish your tangible assets to perform at an optimal level, please feel free to be in touch.


China is building a futuristic ‘forest city’ with more trees than people” | Daisy Simmons, Yale Climate Connections, 26 December 2017

#architecture #design #urbanplanning #engineering #StefanoBoeri #CO2 #carbonpollution #trees #urbanforests #resilience #luxury #urbanluxury #smartluxury #urbanliving #tangibleassets #art #artcollections #collectionsmanagement #realestate #commercialrealestate #culturalrealestate #Yale


issues of condition ・ too complex to be explained?

Extraordinary that there may be ” … a consensus that issues of condition, and the work of conservators, are too complex to be explained to gallery visitors as a matter of course” (Burlington Magazine, as reported by The Art Newspaper).

Physical condition is a fundamental component of value of tangible assets, inclusive of works of art, buildings, and houses.

Neither the art market nor the real estate market are “hermetically sealed,” or entirely self-sufficient, existing apart from condition, as some believe and might like to believe.


How to identify a wreck” | Bendor Grosvenor, The Art Newspaper, 18 December 2017

#art #conservation #conservators #connoisseurship #collections #collectionsmanagement #condition #value #artmarket #tangibleassets #luxury #smartluxury #urbanluxury #architecture #design #engineering #resilience #CO2 #realestate #commercialrealestate #culturalrealestate

The Getty | a Type 1-rated complex, designed & built to resist fire

The Getty Center in Los Angeles performs.

The New York Times and Reuters highlight how the Getty Center has been designed and built to provide resilient stewardship and protect its art holdings, even in a fire- and earthquake-prone area.

The Getty’s design, “and a plan developed with insurers eager to keep the valuable collection safe” [the Getty works with commercial property insurer FM Global], help protect the art from damage.

The Getty’s architect, Richard Meier, built fire resistance into the billion-dollar complex, said Ron Hartwig, vice president of communications for the J. Paul Getty Trust. These hills are fire prone, but because of features like the 1.2 million square feet of thick travertine stone covering the outside walls, the crushed rock on the roofs and even the plants chosen for the brush-cleared grounds, “The safest place for the artwork to be is right here in the Getty Center,” he said.

Within that lovely milky travertine skin, the buildings have reinforced concrete walls and automatic fire doors that can trap fires in sealed-off areas. A carbon-filtered air conditioning system pushes smoke out instead of letting it in, and the internal sprinklers — whose pipes remain dry until needed, to avoid damaging accidents – stand ready to douse flames.

Should any fire move within one of those compartmentalized areas, it can’t get anywhere,” said Michael G. Rogers, director of facilities at the Getty. Since water supplies can be cut off in a disaster, The Getty has its own million-gallon water tank buried under the parking garage. The result is a complex that is rated Type 1, the highest level of fire resistance.


Why the Getty Center’s Art Stayed Put as Fires Raged Nearby” | John Schwartz and Gilbert Gates, The New York Times, 12 December 2017

California’s Getty museum survives wildfire, ready for quakes” | Suzanne Barlyn, Reuters, 8 December 2017

The Getty Center

#Getty #GettyCenter #art #museums #collections #collectionsmanagement #stewardship #scholarship #conservation #preservation #resilience #fire #smoke #particulatematter #airfiltration #design #architecture #RichardMeier #engineering #California #LosAngeles #luxury #urbanluxury #smartluxury #realestate #commercialrealestate #culturalrealestate #insurance