The Paris Agreement was a historical achievement. The world’s governments committed to restrict global warming below 2oC, which effectively means that global greenhouse gas emissions need to be eliminated in the 2nd half of our century. But what are the Agreement’s implications for the buildings sector?
The Agreement, as a high-level political decision, doesn’t include specific measures nor does it address individual sectors. Its main provisions and calls are that urgent and ambitious action is needed before 2020, that the ambition of countries’ climate strategies and targets (INDCs) for 2030 should be raised and reviewed in 2020, and that global emissions need to peak as soon as possible. The Agreement also acknowledges the critical role of cities, civil society and the private sector for driving greater ambition.
It is quite evident that the buildings sector is critical for meeting the vision outlined in the Agreement. Firstly, it is a huge, cross-cutting sector; as much as 50% of global direct and indirect energy use can be attributed to buildings. Secondly, energy efficiency in buildings is among the cheapest options we have for reducing emissions, compared eg to industry or transport. Finally, adopting ambitious energy performance standards for new buildings (at effectively minimal net cost) is an available option with immediate results which also avoids emissions in decades to come, compared to the baseline of a low-performance building.
Even though not specifically included in the Agreement, the importance of the buildings sector was reflected during the Paris Conference itself. For the first time a dedicated event –“Buildings Day”– was organised by the UN Environment Program and the French government, as part of the official programme of the Conference.
The event yielded a number of new commitments and actions, including:
– The endorsement of the G20 Energy Efficiency Investor Statement by over 100 banks and other investors, which collectively manage close to $4 trillion which should lead to further embedding of energy efficiency in those institutions’ operations and investment processes.
– The launch of the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction, a new private-public partnership of organizations, companies, governments and financiers under the auspices of the Lima Paris Action Agenda. The Alliance will provide alignment of existing global, regional and local efforts, and help increase and improve access to the finance required to decarbonize the building sector.
– The World Business Council for Sustainable Development announced its Low Carbon Technology Partnerships initiative on Energy Efficiency in Buildings Action Plan. The plan commits WBCSD companies to reduce projected energy use by 50 percent in buildings by 2030 through actions on energy efficiency.
– The Global Environment Facility (GEF) announced the Climate Aggregation Platform, focused on standards in developing economies, leveraging over $100 million in co-financing from different partners.
– The GEF, in partnership with World Resources Institute and UNEP, also announced the expansion of the Building Efficiency Accelerator and a commitment of new funding to catalyze energy-efficient buildings in the cities of developing countries. The new efforts engage 50 cities on issues of policy implementation, building codes, project development, and tracking and monitoring of building efficiency.
As with all the commitments and declarations coming out of the Conference, the real test will of course lie on the ambition of action taken in the coming years. The technology and know-how is already available, and have been demonstrated to be cost-effective with multiple economic, social and environmental benefits. Urgent intervention is needed especially in rapidly urbanizing markets such as China and India, in order to achieve net-zero new buildings, and in developed economies such as Europe and USA in order to drastically improve the energy efficiency of existing buildings.