Amid all the sobering stories and projections about climate change in the news lately, we have some upbeat news to share. Our hard work is having a BIG impact.
Today, U.S. building sector CO2 emissions are 20.2% below 2005 levels.
According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, energy efficiency and power sector decarbonization have reduced U.S. building sector CO2 emissions by 20.2% below 2005 levels, despite adding approximately 30 billion square feet to our building stock during the last 12 years.
And, global building sector CO2 emissions appear to have leveled off in the past few years.
That’s the good news. Of course, that’s only the beginning. There is still much, much more to do.
Consider that by 2060, total world population is expected to increase by about 2.7 billion people. At the same time, world urban population is expected to increase by 2.8 billion people, or the equivalent of adding 1.5 million people to our cities worldwide every week.
In order to support this urban migration and population growth, by 2060 global building floor area is projected to increase by 230 billion m2, or double the current worldwide building stock.
These numbers are staggering, and if buildings and infrastructure are designed and built to current standards, we will lock-in emissions that will be with us for the foreseeable future.
We are in deep trouble with climate change… It is hard to overstate the urgency of our situation. Even as we witness devastating climate impacts causing havoc across the world, we are still not doing enough, nor moving fast enough, to prevent irreversible and catastrophic climate disruption.”
In October, a landmark report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that we have barely a decade to take “unprecedented” actions to cut emissions in half by 2030 to prevent the worst consequences of climate change.
In order to limit the rise in global average temperature to well below the 2 degree Celsius threshold set by the scientific community, we must phase out fossil fuel CO2 emissions by 2050. This requires that all new construction be designed to high energy efficiency standards, use no CO2-emitting fossil fuel energy to operate, and be constructed with less embodied carbon emissions by 2020; and the entire built environment be carbon neutral by 2050.
To meet these targets, we must take the following actions for building sector reductions in both building operations and embodied carbon emissions:
New Buildings Operations – Design all new buildings to Zero-Net-Carbon (ZNC) standards by 2020.
New Buildings Embodied Carbon – Construct all new buildings using low-to-no embodied carbon materials, achieving zero embodied carbon emissions by 2050.
Existing Buildings Operations – Implement phased government policies for deep retrofits and renovations of the existing building stock, coupled with renewable energy, to reach zero carbon by 2050 (no fossil fuel CO2 emitting energy to operate).
The good news is that we have all the resources we need to meet these targets, including these exciting new tools and initiatives recently developed by Architecture 2030 and our colleagues:
To address new building operations, Architecture 2030 and Senior Fellow Charles Eley developed the ZERO Code – a national and international ZNC building code standard for new commercial, institutional, and mid-to-high rise residential buildings – the predominant building types being constructed worldwide today. The ZERO Code, which can be immediately adopted by any jurisdiction, integrates cost-effective energy efficiency standards with on-site and/or off-site renewable energy, resulting in ZNC buildings. The ZERO Code also creates a predictable and reliable market for renewable energy generation.
The ZERO Code, or other ZNC code standards such as the China Nearly Zero Energy + On-site/Off-site Standard, must be adopted by governments and local jurisdictions as quickly as possible.
To address embodied carbon, Architecture 2030 launched the Carbon Smart Materials Palette at the Global Climate Action Summit in September. The Palette identifies high-impact building materials, the attributes that contribute to their carbon footprint, and provides strategies for reducing their emissions. The high-impact materials are those predominantly being used in building construction today, such as concrete, steel, wood, and insulation. The Palette also introduces materials that naturally sequester carbon, and provides whole-building embodied carbon reduction strategies. It is being continually expanded to support the latest research, technology, standards and specifications, and new materials as they become available.
Additionally, the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3), a free and open source whole-building and product-specific building embodied carbon calculator, has been developed by Skanska, the University of Washington’s Carbon Leadership Forum, and C-Change Labs, with support from the Charles Pankow Foundation, the MKA Foundation, AISC, Interface, Autodesk, and Microsoft, and will be available in early 2019.
To address existing buildings, Architecture 2030 is updating the Achieving Zero Framework early in the New Year with insights from the first phase of our Zero Cities initiative, and will include policy strategies and initiatives for cities and local governments to reach zero emissions by 2050.
Let’s welcome in the New Year with some good news, and a resolution to increase our momentum!
Architecture 2030’s mission is to rapidly transform the built environment from the major contributor of greenhouse gas emissions to a central solution to the climate crisis.