Target values for creating carbon budgets for buildings are important for developing climate-neutral building stocks. A lack of clarity currently exists for defining carbon budgets for buildings and what constitutes a unit of assessment—particularly the distinction between production- and consumption-based accounting. These different perspectives on the system and the function that is assessed hinder a clear and commonly agreed definition of ‘carbon budgets’ for building construction and operation. This paper explores the processes for establishing a carbon budget for residential and non-residential buildings. A detailed review of current approaches to budget allocation is presented. The temporal and spatial scales of evaluation are considered as well as the distribution rules for sharing the budget between parties or activities. This analysis highlights the crucial need to define the temporal scale, the roles of buildings as physical artefacts and their economic activities. A framework is proposed to accommodate these different perspectives and spatio-temporal scales towards harmonised and comparable cross-sectoral budget definitions. Policy relevance : The potential to develop, implement and monitor greenhouse gas-related policies and strategies for buildings will depend on the provision of clear targets. Based on global limits, a carbon budget can establish system boundaries and scalable targets. An operational framework is presented that clarifies greenhouse gas targets for buildings in the different parts of the world that is adaptable to the context and circumstances of a particular place. A carbon budget can enable national regulators to set feasible and legally binding requirements. This will assist the many different stakeholders responsible for decisions on buildings to coordinate and incorporate their specific responsibility at one specific level or scale of activity to ensure overall compliance. Therefore, determining a task specific carbon budget requires an appropriate management of the global carbon budget to ensure that specific budgets overlap, but that the sum of them is equal to the available global budget without double-counting.