The building sector represents both the greatest challenge and the most significant opportunity for reducing GHG emissions at scale.

Globally, buildings account for nearly 40% of total GHG emissions.1 In urban environments this contribution is often much higher, with buildings typically representing the majority of a city’s total emissions. Without addressing buildings, cities will make little progress towards achieving their carbon reduction goals.

Strategies for reducing energy use and carbon emissions in buildings are well understood and proven to be cost-effective.

Already, regions throughout the U.S. and Europe have made significant strides in adopting these strategies into high performance design standards, with numerous efforts underway to adopt nearly-zero or net-zero code-carbon code standards immediately for new construction. If adopted broadly, these standards can effectively reduce and even eliminate global carbon emissions from new building’s operations.

While the adoption of new building energy codes are proving impactful, the slow pace of adoption and enforcement, as well as existing building decarbonization remains problematic – currently, building renovations affect only 0.5-1% of global building stock annually. Rapidly accelerating the pace of advanced code adoption and existing building energy upgrades is key to eliminating the largest source of urban emissions.

Buildings can support cross-sector decarbonization through cleaner electricity generation.

The energy sector has begun decarbonization efforts through the transition of aging coal power plants to natural gas and the rapid growth of new carbon free renewable energy capacity. In the U.S. for example, modest decreases in annual electricity use from buildings and industry have permitted a transition to cleaner grids, though the current rate of conversion is not sufficient to meet 2040 targets. Also, switching from one fossil fuel to another (coal to natural gas) rather than to renewable energy for electricity generation, will lock in emissions from natural gas for decades to come.

The transportation sector is also entering a period of transition. Expanding cities and rising incomes worldwide have led to an increase in vehicle ownership rates, particularly in developing countries.2

In the past five years the electric vehicle (EV) market has gained momentum, and it is projected that by 2030, the stock of electric vehicles will increase by 28 times compared to the 2 million electric vehicles on the road today.3 This trend signals a disruptive shift towards broad electrification in the transportation sector that can mitigate the current uptick in global petroleum consumption. However, this transition may also add significant new demand to existing electricity infrastructure, potentially at a pace that could undermine efforts to phase out grid-based fossil fuel energy.

The building sector plays a critical role in solving the electrification problem by integrating reduced energy demand with the addition of on- and/or off-site renewable energy, thereby supporting a full transition to clean electricity grids and facilitating the decarbonization of the building and transportation sectors.

Additionally, building energy upgrades provide a key opportunity to reinvent the connectivity between the building and energy sectors, where buildings replace service stations as the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles.

Achieving Zero focuses on the building sector where a majority of GHG emissions can be directly impacted and creatively leveraged to reduce emissions in other sectors.

The Achieving Zero framework proposes intervention points where carbon-focused building upgrades can be accelerated and new markets generated that support decarbonization of the energy and transportation sectors.

Sub-national governments must act now to establish programs and policies that will accelerate a widespread transformation of the building sector.  Achieving Zero outlines the framework that will guide this work.

[1] Global Alliance for Building Construction, 2018 Global Status Report.
[2] UN Habitat, 2013. Planning and Design for Sustainable Urban Mobility.
[3] IEA, 2017. Energy Technology Perspectives 2017.

Building industry leaders have committed to carbon neutral design.

In 2017 the World Green Building Council, which convenes an international group of leading green building organizations, stated that in order to meet the Paris goals a collective target must be adopted to transform all buildings to net zero carbon by 2050.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) and 54% of all U.S. architecture firms pledged to meet the 2030 Challenge, which calls for reducing fossil fuel based energy consumption of new construction and major renovations by 70 percent today and meeting incremental targets to carbon neutral design by 2030.

In 2014, the International Union of Architects (UIA), which represents over 1.3 million architects in 124 countries, unanimously adopted a declaration to eliminate CO2 emissions in the built environment by 2050.

Since 2015, 59 leading Chinese and international architecture, design and planning firms adopted a pledge to develop cities, towns, developments, and buildings in China to low carbon/carbon neutral standards.

© Architecture 2030