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Ensuring the Habitats of Future Generations through Green Buildings

We all have a right to adequate shelter; this is something recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But are the spaces we occupy meeting our current and future needs? While reflecting on the sustainable nature of our buildings and cities, we should remind ourselves of the power and responsibility we possess as a network to bring about change, and to shape the future through building green. Now, a visionary group of city mayors, state governors and company CEOs across the globe are coming together on an unprecedented scale to do just that.

Three weeks ago, 22 cities and four regions spanning six continents joined with 12 leading businesses to make a groundbreaking commitment on climate action for buildings, a commitment that will improve the lives of millions.

The Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment was launched on September 13th at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, California. In a pioneering initiative from the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) and our GBC member network, supported by The Climate Group and C40, 38 leaders signed the Commitment, united by the common cause of combatting catastrophic climate change. As the Mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio explained; “Climate change poses an existential threat to New York City, and making our buildings more sustainable and efficient is a key part of the solution.”

The 38 founding signatories have pledged nothing less than determined action towards the total decarbonization of buildings through a combination of aggressive action for energy efficiency improvements with clean, renewable power sources. Collectively they are committed to eliminating 209 million tonnes of carbon emissions (CO2e) from their buildings by 2050 – that’s equivalent to taking nearly 45 million cars off the road for a full year.

The Commitment signifies the start of a rapid greening of the world’s homes and workplaces with a welcome display of leadership. It is part of Advancing Net Zero, our global program for a dramatic transformation to 100% net zero carbon buildings by 2050. We are working with our network of 70 member Green Building Councils globally to recruit and support businesses signing up to this ambitious target.

The initiative also represents the building sector’s proactive and ambitious response to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), not just on climate change and Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG 11), but in a whole range of areas, from health (SDG 3) and biodiversity (SDG 15) to innovation (SDG 9) and economic growth (SDG 8). Building green not only provides an opportunity to save energy and carbon and protect natural resources, it also stimulates innovation, educates, create jobs, strengthens communities and improves health and wellbeing.

It’s why green buildings matter; they are a catalyst for addressing the world’s most pressing problems by providing cleaner, safer, healthier and more comfortable places to live, work, learn, play and heal without damaging the planet. Sustainable habitats for humans translates to sustainable action for the planet.

The new Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment is remarkable for its sheer scale. The 12 founding businesses represent a massive $22.95 billion in revenue throughout the global building and construction supply chain. They have set an ambitious target – to eliminate their own operational carbon emissions from portfolios of over 10.7 million square meters by 2030 – and their example as climate leaders will inspire others. They will become enablers, driving wider market transformation to deliver net zero carbon buildings worldwide by 2050. For example, the Berkeley Group, which built 10% of London’s homes, have already achieved their target of becoming carbon positive (beyond net zero) for their own operations in 2018, and have committed to further ensure that all of their developments operate at net zero by 2030.

Currently, the initial 22 major cities and four regions will enact regulations and planning policies to enable wider uptake, by requiring all new buildings to operate at net zero carbon from 2030, and all buildings to operate at net zero carbon by 2050. Vancouver, for example, already has its Zero Emission Plan, which demands all new buildings eliminate all operational greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

But making a public commitment is not enough. Although these 38 signatories are willing to be held accountable on the progress they make to eliminate carbon emission from the building sector, they will also be required to evaluate their current energy use and emissions, identify opportunities to reduce energy waste, improve energy efficiency and power buildings from renewables, and report annually on progress versus their targets. Their achievements will be verified to a high standard and they will be able to draw on the practical support of their national Green Building Councils and available zero carbon building certification schemes.

The last of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, Partnerships for the Goals, is ultimately where the Net Zero Carbon Building Commitment sits. It’s an unprecedented statement of coordinated action and collective commitment towards decarbonization of the built environment, which is responsible for 39% of the world’s carbon emissions. Building upon the collective strength of the WorldGBC’s Green Building Council network and our partner organizations, it is an example of how an initiative can create strong, global partnerships to respond to urgent global challenges. I am excited to see where it will lead and how others will follow.

Victoria Burrows is Head of Advancing Net Zero at the World Green Building Council.

This blog was first published as part of the World Green Building Council’s blog series for Women’s eNews.