Every Building Net Zero Carbon By 2050

Less than 1% of all buildings worldwide are net zero carbon. This is according to a new report issued by World Green Building Council (WBGC), whose dramatic goals propose that by 2050 all buildings must operate at net zero carbon.

To achieve net zero carbon emissions annually in operation, a building must be more than highly energy-efficient. The net zero carbon building must derive all remaining operational energy use from renewable energy, preferably on-site but also off-site production.

Achieving “net zero carbon” will require a monumental and coordinated effort by businesses, governments and non-governmental organisations to bring the building sector within striking distance of these goals.

The WGBC report “FROM THOUSANDS TO BILLIONS – Coordinated Action towards 100% Net Zero Carbon Buildings By 2050” (www.worldgbc.org) submits that whilst it is known that buildings are major contributors to climate change, green buildings also offer one of the most cost effective solutions to climate change and can lead to significant environmental, economic and social benefits around the world. The resulting construction spending will not only greatly improve jobs growth but add to GDP.

We need nothing short of a dramatic and ambitious transformation from a world of thousands of net zero buildings, to one of billions if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” said Terri Wills, CEO of the WGBC. “Businesses, governments and NGOs hold the key to this transformation, but they must commit to aggressive action. It is possible to create a world in which every single building produces zero carbon emissions, but we must start today.”

WGBC is a global organisation located in over 70 countries, transforming the places where we live, work, play and learn. Their mission is to create sustainability through green buildings, enabling people to thrive in an eco-friendly world. Through supporting local and global leadership and empowering communities to drive change, their green building initiative aims to achieve a more sustainable future.

Green buildings are designed, constructed or operated in a way that reduces or eliminates negative environmental impacts and can create positive impacts on our climate and natural environment. The ideal green building would be one that would allow you to preserve most of the natural environment around the project site, while still being able to produce a building that is going to serve a purpose and improve our quality of life. For existing buildings, every retrofit will need to target net zero carbon emissions.

The WGBC is committed to achieving the standards set in the Paris Agreement by 2050 which is to decarbonise as quickly as possible. These standards being, to limit global temperature rises to 2 degrees Celsius, reduce the building and construction sector’s CO2 emissions by 84 gigatonnes and ensure all buildings are net zero emission.

The signing of the Paris Agreement in December 2015, marks the start of the most important race in our existence- the race to control global greenhouse gas emissions. It has set the timeframe for how quickly the world must perform in order to reach its goals by 2050 and have all major business sectors operating in a state of zero carbon emission.

The building and construction sector is responsible for 30% of global energy consumption and the associated emissions. This sector, which is responsible for global emissions roughly equivalent to those of the whole of China, must operate at “net zero carbon” by 2050 if global warming is to remain under the set limit of two degrees Celsius.

The International Energy Agency expects the current global building stock to almost double by 2050, increasing from 223 billion square meters to almost 415 billion square meters. The Global Alliance for building and construction states that current renovation rates amount to less than 1% of the existing building stock each year. To achieve the set universal net zero emissions in the building sector, renovation rates must increase by 3% each year starting in 2017.

The WGBC called for a dramatic dual goal transformation towards a net zero emission built environment. These goals are:

  • All new buildings must operate at net zero carbon from 2030

Net zero carbon buildings must become standard business practice as soon as possible, so we build right from the start; avoid the need for future major retrofits; and prevent the lock-in of carbon emitting systems for decades to come.

  • 100% of buildings must operate at net zero carbon by 2050

Existing buildings require not only an acceleration of current renovation rates, but these renovations must be completed to a net zero carbon standard so that all buildings are net zero carbon in operation by 2050.

WGBC also believes that only through concerted action of three core groups of actors, they can achieve these goals; Business, Government and Non-Governmental Organisations.

The WGBC report summarises these three calls to action:

BUSINESS

  1. Commit to investing in, building and occupying only new projects, major renovations and existing properties that will achieve net zero carbon before 2050, with new buildings from 2030; and implement policies and practices to ensure assets operate at net zero carbon as soon as possible.
  2. Disclose carbon emissions for all assets before 2030.
  3. Certify all new assets as net zero carbon (or net zero energy if that is preferred and available in your market) from 2030; certify all assets as net zero carbon by 2050.

GOVERNMENT

  1. Commit to developing national and/or sub-national regulations for new and existing buildings to achieve net zero carbon standards as per the outlined timeline; and implement plans, incentives & strategies to support the building market in achieving these standards.
  2. Commit to occupying only certified net zero carbon buildings before 2030.
  3. Collaborate with relevant stakeholders, including the business sector and NGOs, to identify and overcome the barriers preventing net zero carbon buildings.

NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANISATIONS (NGOs)

  1. Develop certification programmes for net zero carbon buildings for leading businesses to adopt and to show market readiness to governments.
  2. Engage and support governments to create roadmaps, incentives and tracking systems for the rapid development of net zero carbon buildings.
  3. Educate and train businesses and the public on the value of net zero carbon building, including business benefits, feasibility, and necessary skills development.

Achieving these targets would help to ensure that the worst impacts of climate change are avoided but they also bring about a number of benefits, both political and economic.

Net zero buildings will not only help in the fight against climate change, but will create jobs, improve energy security, and lower energy costs. The other political and economic benefits of green buildings include: future-proofing of investments, resilience against energy prices, meeting climate change obligations, market advancements such as education, technology development and innovation, creating new jobs and enabling significant investment in new clean energy systems.

Mahesh Ramanujam states that; “Beyond the benefits for owners, investors, tenants and occupants, green buildings support a thriving, innovative industry. The 2015 Green Building Economic Impact Study analysed the economic impact of green construction on the U.S. economy and found that by 2018, green construction will directly contribute 3.3 million jobs in the U.S. and generate $190.3 billion in labour earnings. The report also found that LEED certified buildings account for 40 percent of green construction’s contribution to the U.S. GDP, and that from 2015–2018, LEED-related construction spending will support 1.4 million jobs, provide $95.7 billion in labour earnings and generate an additional $108.8 billion in GDP.” Article, “Green building works for all by saving resources and creating jobs” on the ‘U.S. Green Building Council’ website.

References:

  • Eltringham, Mark. “‘Climate Smart’ Cities Could Generate Global Savings Of $17 Trillion – Workplace Insight”. Workplace Insight. N.p., 2017. Web. 6 June 2017.
  • Laski, Jonathan, and Victoria Burrows. FROM THOUSANDS TO BILLIONS. World Green Building Council, 2017. Web. 6 June 2017. Coordinated Action Towards 100% Net Zero Carbon Buildings By 2050.
  • Ramanujam, Mahesh. “Green Building Works For All By Saving Resources And Creating Jobs | U.S. Green Building Council”. Usgbc.org. N.p., 2017. Web. 6 June 2017.