Decarbonisation challenge: Building a sustainable future in the EU

The EU building sector accounts for 40% of energy consumption and 36% of greenhouse gas emissions. To achieve climate neutrality by 2050, two key approaches are essential:

  1. Use sustainable materials that minimise the generation of waste and its need for management or reuse.
  2. Designing flexible infrastructures that can be adapted to various needs over time.

In this context, four experts met at a forum sponsored by Acciona and organised by 20 minutes. The aim was to address the state of decarbonisation in the construction sector, highlighting the importance of innovation, recycling, the contribution of other countries and the role of the Administration and engineers.

Félix González Yagüe, Director of Strategy and Sustainability for Acciona’s Construction business, warned of the environmental impact of construction, which is responsible for more than a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. However, he warned that, although CO2 emissions are a major concern, “we will die sooner eaten by rubbish than intoxicated by CO2 emissions” as the waste generated by the industry represents another third of the problem.

He also highlighted the urgent need to adopt sustainable practices to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, proposing that infrastructures such as bridges should not only connect, but also generate renewable energy and harness water.

Practices such as reconversion or deconstruction, which were already used by the Romans two millennia ago through the reuse of materials in order to build more consciously, were also promoted. Cristina Gallego, from the Spanish Construction Technology Platform, stressed the importance of prioritising sustainability in the transition of the sector, promoting the use of recycled materials, especially those from the deconstruction of infrastructures.

Decarbonisation is opening up new possibilities in infrastructure design, such as roads in Sweden capable of charging electric cars and the use of electric machinery in construction. However, it is crucial not to forget existing infrastructures and to adapt them in a sustainable way.

On the other hand, José Osuna, Vice-Dean of the College of Civil Engineers of Madrid, highlighted the need to make sustainability compatible with the infrastructures already built as well as to continue developing new sustainable infrastructures.

Another very important factor to consider is road engineers, who need more recognition and training, says José Osuna. Suppliers to construction and engineering companies also have a crucial role to play, as the environmental footprint of a project depends to a large extent on the materials they provide.

Engineers and suppliers

Another very important factor to take into account is the road engineers, who need more recognition and training, according to José Osuna. Likewise, suppliers to construction and engineering companies also play a crucial role, as the environmental footprint of a project depends to a large extent on the materials they provide.

Cristina Gallego emphasised the need for a holistic approach that includes suppliers, especially considering the influence of transport electrification on emissions associated with construction. Elena de la Peña added that roads and vehicles must evolve together within the same mobility ecosystem.


Administrations have an essential role in promoting decarbonisation through regulations such as the EU taxonomy and the inclusion of sustainability criteria in public tenders. However, José Osuna warned that the legislative effect must be backed up by tenders for works that are possible to comply with in terms of sustainability.

Despite the intention in the Administration to change, there is a lack of connection with private investors and large fortunes seeking to invest in sustainable infrastructures. In this context, Félix González Yagüe highlighted the lack of public-private collaboration mechanisms in Spain, which hinders the development of public projects with private funds.

EU and US

The EU is currently leading the way in decarbonisation with prominent examples in Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands. In addition, it is implementing a carbon adjustment mechanism that will soon penalise the CO2 emissions of the least committed countries, such as the US and China.

The UK is also making progress in decarbonising construction, with road schemes with long-term targets up to 2050. In contrast, Spain still has some way to go in this respect.

Outside Europe, the United States is leading on decarbonisation out of necessity, due to the urgency of adapting its infrastructure to climate change. In Latin America, Brazil is at the forefront of this effort, especially in improving the state of roads, along with other social development priorities.

In short, the construction sector is at a critical point in its path towards decarbonisation and sustainability. The efforts of experts, engineers, suppliers, administrations and other key players are essential to achieve the goals of reducing emissions and creating more sustainable infrastructure.

Source: 20minutos