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Green Building Councils provide leadership on zero carbon buildings

A blog by Edward Mazria, Founder and CEO of Architecture 2030.

Last December in Paris at COP21, nearly 200 countries came together to forge an unprecedented agreement: to “limit global average temperatures to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.” This was the first time the world had a clear target to aim at, and with that came the broad understanding that dramatic changes are needed in how we think about energy and conduct business across all sectors.

As part of Architecture 2030’s involvement at COP21, I gave a keynote speech during Buildings Day to describe what this meant for the building industry. I made it clear that the scientific studies prepared for UNFCCC illustrate that the next decade is a critical time, and the only way to stabilise our climate is to reach zero total global greenhouse gas emissions by 2060 to 2080.

In order to meet that timeframe our entire building sector must achieve zero fossil fuel CO2 emissions by about 2050. We need to make a rapid shift in building design, construction, and operations towards net zero carbon, and our solution must bring every building – new and existing – into the fold.

I ended my talk with a challenge to a leadership group in our industry, the Green Building Councils (GBCs): GBCs should adopt net zero certification pathways now, to ensure that in the coming years, zero net carbon building will be the norm.

I’m delighted to say that less than a year later the GBCs have taken up that call to action. Last week in New York City the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC), with the support of Architecture 2030 as lead partner, hosted the three-day Advancing Net Zero workshop where 10 of the most influential GBCs worldwide came together to define a common approach and share strategies towards net zero certification pathways.

Architecture 2030 led the discussion by summarising the commitments from COP21 and offering the Zero Net Carbon (ZNC) definition as an approach to net zero. Then, representatives from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, India, the Netherlands, South Africa and Sweden shared and discussed their action plans to deliver net zero carbon pathways for each country and how to drive global change for all buildings.

In three short days, the progress we made was enormous. The group broadly agreed on some fundamental principles such as the need for a focus on carbon and on being transparent about how pathways will become mechanisms for continuous improvement in the building sector. Importantly, all GBC representatives championed a level of energy efficiency and each of their initial plans includes careful consideration for a combination of on-site and off-site renewable energy, and in some cases, offsets.

As impressive as these bold decisions, is the speed at which the GBCs will act on them.  Each participating GBCs is working to adopt a net zero definition and certification programme as soon as possible, with a goal of having those in place by the end of 2017. Each GBC is also committed to developing training materials and educational resources, with one GBC committing to training 1,000 professionals a year.

Building this consensus amongst the GBCs is critical because the transformation of the building sector to zero carbon must begin immediately. This transition will take decades of work and a coordinated effort between planners, regulators, architects, designers, builders, and owners, but this commitment lays the foundation by creating common guidelines for each of the parties to follow. I am grateful to the GBCs for leading this important effort towards meeting the Paris Agreement and setting us on a path to successfully address the climate crisis.

Follow Architecture 2030 on Twitter: @Arch2030.