On Track to Meet the Paris Agreement

The U.S. building sector is on track to meet the greenhouse gas emissions reduction target set by the U.S. in the Paris Agreement.

This month, Donald Trump announced the largely symbolic withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, reaffirming his commitment to resurrecting the waning coal industry and accelerating the production of domestic fossil fuels. The reasons given for withdrawing were the imposition of “draconian financial and economic burdens”, higher energy costs, blocking the development of clean coal and building new coal plants, and leaving “millions and millions of families trapped in poverty and joblessness”.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Paris Agreement Facts

The Paris climate agreement is voluntary, with each country setting its own greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets and policies. There are no enforcement mechanisms or penalties for not meeting declared targets, nor is there anything in the agreement that prohibits the building of coal plants, clean coal development or fossil fuel production, or adjusting country targets.

The fact is, coal production and use in the U.S. is declining because:

  1. building sector electricity demand is dropping,
  2. less expensive natural gas and renewable energy are increasingly being used for electricity generation, and
  3. coal exports are falling.

Progress Towards the U.S. Target

The U.S. set its own non-binding GHG emissions reduction target in the Paris agreement at 21% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025 (excluding LULUCF – land use, land use change, and forestry).

The building sector is now on track to meet the Paris reduction targets – reaching a 24.5% reduction below 2005 levels by 2025, and 30.4% by 2030.

-Data Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) 2017 projections

Specifically, U.S. building sector emissions are currently 16% below 2005. This is in stark contrast to projections from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) that were made in 2005. In that year, the EIA projected building energy consumption and GHG emissions in 2016 would rise 43.8% and 52.4% respectively above 2005 levels by 2030.

Since 2005, building sector energy consumption projections have declined each year; consumption levels are 5.1% below 2005 levels today, even though we have added about 30 billion square feet to our building stock over the past decade. Also, American businesses and households have saved over $500 billion in projected energy costs since 2005. That means more money is being distributed throughout the U.S. to create jobs and increase spending on clothing, food, education, travel, electronics, construction, equipment, and housing. The additional savings to Americans will amount to over $2 trillion by 2030.


What does this all mean?

Practically speaking, the train has already left the station on GHG emissions reductions, and the building sector is leading the way. It is on track to meet our Paris 2025 target, with or without President Trump on board.

The Wall – A Shameful and Immoral Act

At a time when the White House is demanding Congress allocate billions of dollars to build a wall along the U.S.–Mexico border, it might be wise to reflect on its real impacts. The decision to build a wall is based on fear and demagoguery, and its human and political repercussions are critical, but there are two additional issues that haven’t been adequately brought to the attention of the American public.

First, there are the practical implications of walling off a 1,254-mile border along the Rio Grande River, or the flying distance between Boston and Miami.

A border wall and access road would be built on the U.S. side of the river outside the flood plain of the Rio Grande. Because of the river’s twists and turns, a barrier could not follow the actual border, meaning that some sections of the wall would be miles from the river. If the average width of land from the river to the wall were one mile, the land beyond the wall would roughly equal an area the size of Rhode Island.

Such a wall would cut the entire United States and state of Texas off from 1,254 miles of the Rio Grande River and in effect cede access to the river, its reservoirs, and the land from the river to the wall, to the Mexico side.

People, animals, and livestock on the U.S. side of the wall would not be able to reach the river, its water, recreation areas, reservoirs, or wildlife. Economically speaking, billions of dollars in commerce and wildlife tourism would be lost for towns on both sides of the border. And, according to the MIT Technology Review, building a concrete wall would leave a carbon footprint of 7.2 million metric tons of CO2, or the equivalent annual emissions of the entire city of Washington DC.

Second, and more important, a physical barrier that prevents people from passing through would also disrupt wildlife migration corridors along the Rio Grande border, isolate animal populations, fragment and decimate wildlife and habitats, and threaten one of the most biodiverse areas in the U.S. All this would take place in a hot semi-arid region, expected to get hotter and drier with climate change, where water is a life-sustaining and precious resource.

So, if there are concerns about potential social and security issues posed by unchecked immigration, building a wall or physical barrier that causes irreparable harm to people, communities, ecosystems, and wildlife, is not a solution: it is in fact a shameful and immoral act that ironically will destroy that which it purports to protect.

— Edward Mazria, Founder and CEO, Architecture 2030

(photo courtesy of Northern Jaguar Project – used under licence)

U.S. Building Sector Emissions Down – The Driving Force: You!

We begin the New Year with good news!

Projected U.S. building sector energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to the year 2030 have declined for eleven straight years since the 2030 Challenge was issued in 2005.

The driving force behind the dramatic decline is the architecture and planning community and our colleagues in the building sector. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook 2016, projections to the year 2030 for building sector energy consumption (building operations) have declined by 18.5 Quadrillion BTUs since 2005 (or the equivalent of 1,209 coal-fired 250 MW power plants).


With building sector energy consumption continuing to decrease slightly each year, together with the addition of new renewable energy generation and the substitution of lower emissions fuels for coal, total U.S. building sector GHG emissions are dropping dramatically.

emissions_1000According to the EIA, U.S. building sector emissions in 2030 are projected to be 29% below 2005 levels.

Of course, we have been exceeding EIA projections for energy consumption and emissions reductions each year since 2005 – all without any significant congressional legislation for the past 11 years, and with limited state adoption of advanced building energy codes. So, if the past is any indication, we can expect to see building sector emissions drop 35% to 45% below 2005 levels by 2030.

This is all good news as the building sector continues to lead the way in U.S. fossil fuel and emissions reductions.

It is clear that an unshakable and independent foundation for resilient and zero carbon planning, building design, and materials and construction is now well established, and as a result, is becoming a worldwide movement unto itself.

“Together we have been, and remain, the driving force behind an evolution to the highest form of design – addressing a new and unprecedented problem, that of climate change and its impact on all of Earth’s life forms.”
– Edward Mazria

As we enter the New Year, we are confident this global phenomenon is here to stay. And the force our community has created will continue to grow through innovation, education, and practice… thanks to all of you!

Trump/AIA. . . A Sleeping Giant Awakens

The election of Donald Trump, and a hastily composed (and later retracted) post-election statement by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), has galvanized the U.S. design community. After much soul-searching prompted by anxiety and anger, architects and our allied design and planning professionals have articulated a vibrant vision for themselves and their profession.

Design professionals, faculty, students, AIA chapters and other organizations have made it clear that we care deeply about climate change and its consequences, and we understand that there is an urgent need to build a just, equitable, and sustainable built environment worldwide. Many are anxious about what the recent election means for the future, but there’s also an increased awareness that we, as individuals and as a profession, are a formidable force for implementing change.

Now is the time to act. We plan, design, specify, and influence the built world. We can be complicit in further environmental disruption that leads to human suffering, or we can resolve to create a built environment that mitigates and even reverses the worst effects of climate change.

To that end, Architecture 2030 calls for the following actions:

Professional Organizations (e.g., American Institute of Architects, American Planning Association, ASHRAE, Urban Land Institute, Congress for the New Urbanism, US Green Building Council, etc.):

  • Promote carbon neutral design and planning to fulfill the objectives of the Paris Climate Agreement.
  • Advocate for institutions and governments at all levels to do the same.
  • End the distinction between “design” awards and “sustainable design” awards. All design and planning awards must include environmental and social stewardship as a core criterion, including an evaluation of how projects effectively and skillfully address energy consumption and emissions and promote resiliency, as well as aesthetics and other programmatic concerns.
  • Promote sustainable and resilient communities, including access to affordable housing, local renewable energy (e.g. community solar), public transportation, and community services.

Accrediting and Registration Boards, and Academic Organizations  (e.g. National Architectural Accrediting Board, National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning, etc.):

  • Establish ecological literacy and competency in carbon neutral design as part of all core design studio courses, and as a prerequisite for professional licensure and accreditation of professional degree programs.
  • Establish continuing education in carbon neutral design, tools, products, and climate adaptation and resiliency, as a requirement for intern development and professional license renewal.
  • Promote design and planning work and scholarship that advances a deep understanding of the relationship between built and natural environments.
  • Support exceptional instruction and student work that demonstrates theoretical and practical competence in designing and planning resilient, sustainable, equitable, and carbon-neutral built environments.

Students and Faculty:

  • Students:
    • Demand a design and planning education that prepares students intellectually and practically for the future of a carbon-neutral built environment and the challenges posed by rapid urbanization and projected climate disruption.
    • Be creative, informed, and inclusive. Solving climate change through the built environment is about visionary planning and design, active engagement in social issues, and a working understanding of policy and building technologies.
  • Faculty:
    • Inspire and prepare the next generation of designers and planners through innovative coursework that integrate lessons in energy, emissions, resiliency, embodied carbon, and climate adaptation in all courses, and specifically in design studio projects.
    • Teach the values and strategies that contribute to the creation of urban built environments that are sustainable, just, and equitable. Over the next 15 years, 1.1 billion people will move into urban areas worldwide, which is the equivalent of the entire population of the Western Hemisphere (North, Central, and South America).

Firms and Practitioners:

  • Commit to carbon-neutral design and planning in all projects, and report progress toward that goal.
  • Commit to reducing the embodied carbon of projects through planning, design, construction methods, and product specifications. This is especially important as we move towards a zero carbon built environment.
  • Design for the challenges posed by the projected impacts of climate change and rapid urbanization.


  • Use your voice. Insist that your institutions represent your values. We must harness the renewed sense of purpose we’ve seen over the last few weeks, and use our voice not just in our internal debates, but also to advocate for action on a broader level.
  • Participate in local, state and national politics. The core values of the design community are expressed through actions.

Recent events have awakened a sleeping giant.  Now is the time to channel this newfound energy and work toward a carbon-free future, one that leverages the transformative power of design and planning to create a better world.

– Ed Mazria, Founder and CEO, Architecture 2030

Illustration from
Tales from The Edda, by Helen Zimmern and Kate Greenway (W. Swan Sonnenschein, London, 1882. Public domain.) Adapted by Demetra Mazria.

Zero Net Carbon (ZNC): A Definition

ZNC sets a clear direction for both new and existing buildings towards a zero-carbon built environment.

The world reached a monumental consensus in December 2015 under the Paris Agreement – to limit global average temperature increase to “well below 2°C and to drive efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.”

The built environment is responsible for the majority of global CO2 emissions that contribute to climate change. Zero Net Carbon (ZNC) buildings address an urgent need to mitigate the CO2 impacts of fossil fuel based energy consumption.

A ZNC building is defined as:

a highly energy efficient building that produces on-site, or procures, enough carbon-free renewable energy to meet building operations energy consumption annually.

In a ZNC building, carbon-based energy consumption is reduced first through building design strategies and efficiency measures, then through on-site renewable energy generation, and finally through procurement of locally produced off-site renewable energy.

By establishing a net zero balance of carbon-free energy consumption, this ZNC definition can apply to all new and existing building types including those with limited on-site renewable energy capacity, such as buildings in dense urban environments.

By providing this broad platform for carbon emissions reduction, the ZNC definition is expected to play a significant role in guiding building design, development, and operations for professional organizations and policymakers.

“With the staggering amount of building and rebuilding that will take place worldwide over the next two decades, and the need to dramatically reduce carbon emissions, it is critical that we support a clear definition and approach for designing and operating zero net carbon (ZNC) buildings.”

– Edward Mazria, Founder and CEO, Architecture 2030

For more information about Zero Net Carbon Buildings, read the ZNC definition white paper issued by Architecture 2030, New Buildings Institute, and Rocky Mountain Institute.

Achieving Zero

Achieving Zero is a framework of integrated policies for sub-national governments (state, provincial or municipal) to phase out CO2 emissions in the built environment by about 2050.

Its key implementation tools are building intervention points that align and integrate building energy upgrade policies with the capital improvement and major renovation cycles of existing buildings, as well as zero net carbon building standards that apply to all buildings.

The framework is structured to deliver energy and emissions reductions, rapid expansion of local renewable energy systems, and the development of equitable, resilient and healthy communities.


Paris to World: an End to the Fossil Fuel Era

Last week, the world came together in Paris for the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), and signed a historic agreement.  At the heart of the Paris Agreement is the “long-term goal” committing almost 200 countries – including the U.S., China, India, and the EU nations – to keep the global average temperature increase to “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.”

To meet this target, the world must reach zero fossil fuel CO2 emissions in the urban built environment by about 2050, and zero total global greenhouse gas emissions by 2060 to 2080.

What’s in the Agreement

The agreement commits all countries to “aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible . . . and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter”. It includes 188 national government submissions – Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) – containing the actions each country intends to take to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

These initial INDCs admittedly do not go far enough to meet the 1.5°C target, but each country is required to renew its pledge with increasingly stringent targets every five years. The current U.S. INDC pledge is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025.

But most importantly, the impact of the agreement is clear – governments have signaled an end to the fossil fuel era by committing for the first time to cut GHG emissions and avoid the most egregious impacts of climate change.

The Agreement and the Built Environment

Another historic event at COP21 was the first ever UNFCCC Buildings Day – an entire day devoted to the building sector in recognition of the important role it must play in ensuring that countries meet their emissions reduction obligations.


Ed Mazria presenting the China Accord at the UNFCCC COP21 Buildings Day

Architecture 2030 helped organize Buildings Day, and Ed Mazria, Architecture 2030 Founder and CEO, delivered the opening presentation titled “Road to Zero”, which successfully set the tone for the remainder of the day. Referencing Architecture 2030’s submission to the UNFCCC – the Roadmap to Zero Emissions: The Built Environment in a Global Transformation to Zero Emissions report – he demonstrated how a combination of reducing the built environment’s demand for fossil fuel energy while increasing the world’s supply of renewable energy sources will meet the Paris Agreement’s long-term 1.5°C goal.

In addition, Mazria presented the China Accord for the first time to the UNFCCC and the international audience in attendance, illustrating how the architecture, planning, and building design community in China will play a key role in making the agreement’s targets a reality.

Chen Zhen, Secretary General of CEDAAB (left) and Leon Qiu, Vice Secretary General of CEDAAB and Principal at DLR Group

Chen Zhen, Secretary General of CEDAAB (left) and Leon Qiu, Vice Secretary General of CEDAAB and Principal at DLR Group

The Accord is a commitment by 52 key Chinese and international architecture and planning firms to plan and design cities, towns, developments, and buildings in China to low carbon/carbon neutral standards.  

Chen Zhen, Secretary General of the China Exploration & Design Association – Architecture Branch (CEDAAB), also delivered a speech at the opening of Buildings Day on the importance of international collaboration and China’s commitment to low carbon development. According to Zhen,

“The China Accord is a manifestation of the determination and moral obligations of planners and architects both in China and internationally, that we are taking huge strides to reduce carbon emissions and move towards zero carbon.”

At COP21, bold actions such as the China Accord underlined the importance of cities and the built environment in combatting climate change, giving nations the confidence to take dramatic steps in Paris.

Cities consume nearly 75% of global energy production and are responsible for a similar percentage of global GHG emission. Tokyo, for example, is responsible for the same amount of GHG emissions as the 37 least polluting African countries. 

Architecture 2030's representatives at COP21: Panama Bartholomy, EU Lead, and Yaki Wo, Asia Lead

Architecture 2030’s representatives at COP21: Panama Bartholomy, EU Lead, and Yaki Wo,
Asia Lead

COP21 is also the first time that cities have had their voices fully recognized at a global UN conference on climate change, and the first time over 1,000 city and regional officials gathered to demand bold action.

436 cities have signed the Compact of Mayors pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and track their progress.

These include 117 U.S. cities, with total average U.S. city pledges at 68% GHG emissions reductions below their current levels by 2050.

In addition to the China Accord and the local government pledges, many other initiatives were announced during COP21, including:

  • 123 jurisdictions (states, provinces, regions, and cities) collectively representing more than 720 million people and $19.9 trillion in combined GDP, equivalent to more than a quarter of the global economy, joined the Under 2 MOU agreement, pledging to limit emissions to 80% to 95% below 1990 levels, or below 2 metric tons per capita, by 2050.
  • Over 100 banks, managing a total of $4 trillion in assets, called for a doubling of building energy efficiency by 2030.
  • Over 150 US companies committed to reduce energy use in their facilities by 50%.
  • The Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction, a global private-public alliance was established to foster closer collaboration and new partnerships in the buildings sector.
  • The World Green Building Council (WGBC) announced that GBCs in Canada, Australia, and South Africa are developing Carbon Neutral building certifications, signaling that this is where the market is headed. The WGBC and Architecture 2030 are planning to collaborate to help develop the certification and then to expand it into other global markets.

2016 and Beyond

The Paris Agreement introduces a new world, one that envisions an end to fossil fuel emissions and secures a strong mechanism to address climate change.

As Architecture 2030’s senior consultant Farhana Yamin (also CEO of Track 0 and advisor to the Marshall Islands) put it:

“There is a huge way to go, but there are already people out there working on envisioning what a Zero by 2050 world looks like.”

So open your champagne bottles, and toast the promise of not just another New Year, but also a new era of international collaboration in creating a sustainable, resilient, and highly livable planet.

Achieving 80×50 – Transforming New York City’s Building Stock

achieving80x50_coverRenovating New York City’s buildings to high-performance standards when they change hands is crucial to the City reaching its ambitious goal of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

That’s the key finding in the latest Architecture 2030 report Achieving 80×50: Reducing Energy Use, Creating Jobs, and Phasing Out Carbon Emissions in New York City’s Buildings, presented by Founder and CEO Edward Mazria last week at a major event in New York City hosted by coalition and community-building organization ALIGN: The Alliance for a Greater New York.

New York City contains about one million buildings comprising 5.75 billion square feet of building stock. Its buildings are responsible for 71% of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and 94% of its electricity consumption.

While requiring new buildings to become more efficient and renovating city-owned buildings are both important, in order to meet the city’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction target by the year 2050, most of the city’s existing building stock must also be renovated to high-performance standards over the next 35 years.

Tying Renovation to the Purchase of Buildings

The key to addressing New York’s existing building stock is private sector building purchases.

There are about 26,000 buildings bought and sold in New York City each year, meaning approximately 900,000 buildings will change hands over the next 35 years.

Achieving 80×50 calls for building buyers to improve the greenhouse gas emissions from their new property by choosing one of the following options:

  1. Upgrade their newly-purchased building to high-performance standards and/or incorporate renewable energy systems. (This is particularly attractive as many owners will already be renovating these buildings upon purchase prior to occupancy.)Or: 
  2. Conduct non-intrusive efficiency upgrades (the ‘low-hanging fruit’ that does not disturb building occupants) and purchase non-GHG emitting renewable energy (from new renewable energy generation installed within the metropolitan area) to meet the City’s emissions reduction targets.

The first option creates additional efficiency construction investment, and the second creates minimum efficiency upgrades and weatherization, and a robust market for renewable energy generation, both leading to long-term investment, job growth, and emissions reductions.

The emissions reduction standards and efficiency requirements would be administered primarily through New York City’s building energy code, which would be updated every three years to more stringent emissions reduction (fossil fuel energy consumption) requirements.

Since buyers are likely to finance or invest funds for building purchases (and in many cases planning to renovate), the additional expense to renovate to high-performance standards is minimal when compared to the purchase and renovation cost.

Economic Benefits and Job Creation

In addition to ensuring that the city meets its 80×50 emissions reduction target, adopting the recommendations in Achieving 80×50, New York City will:

  • create over 80,000 new jobs,
  • receive about $500 million in new tax revenue (to renovate public housing, create training programs, offer incentives for even greater efficiency renovations, etc.),and
  • reduce energy consumption and energy bills.

“Achieving 80×50 is a practical and powerful plan to ensure that New York City can reach its bold and necessary emissions reduction targets,” said Edward Mazria.


Download the Achieving 80×50 Report

The Beginning of the End?

Does 2015 mark the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era? Recent developments are pointing that way?