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I’m dreaming of… a net zero future

As we down tools and head into the holiday season, I am taking inspiration from Bing Crosby’s Christmas classic, reflecting on what a phenomenal year 2017 has been for raising awareness around the urgent need for net zero carbon buildings, and the enormity of the challenge ahead of us.

Without wanting to infringe upon the festive cheer, highlighting why net zero carbon buildings are absolutely critical in our fight against climate change has never been more important. The UN’s Global Status Report, published only last week, revealed that buildings and construction now account for 39 per cent of energy related CO2 emissions, and that emissions from the sector rose by nearly 1 per cent per year between 2010 and 2016. These are sobering findings, but ones that should strengthen our resolve rather than dampen our spirits.

The progress of our pioneering Advancing Net Zero project demonstrates how action is already being taken to drive forward net zero carbon buildings.

Since the project’s inception in 2015, the Green Building Councils participating in the project have been developing building certification schemes and standards to suit their particular context, whilst ensuring the key principles of the project are met. As a reminder, these are as follows:

  1. Carbon is the ultimate metric to track, and we need a combination of super high-performance buildings and a decarbonised energy grid;
  2. Energy efficiency must be prioritised, and we will achieve a decarbonised global building stock faster if our buildings demand less energy to operate;
  3. There is a renewable energy hierarchy – the balance of renewable energy should follow the preference of on-site, off-site, offset (where appropriate to a particular market); and
  4. Continuous improvement and rigour are essential, and that Green Building Councils’ focus should develop to include other key impact areas such as embodied carbon.

We would like to congratulate the five Green Building Councils involved in the project that have launched net zero building certifications in their countries (France, Canada, Brazil, Australia and South Africa), with a further five to follow next year. Look out for some visual outputs from WorldGBC in early 2018 which will demonstrate how each of these certifications have responded to the above principles through their unique applications. This includes how the National Carbon Offset Standard for Buildings and Precincts developed in conjunction with the Australian federal government uses Green Star-Performance as a compliance pathway; how additional certification labels can complement existing ones, such as the Green Star South Africa tool which is recognising net zero and net positive carbon, water, waste and ecological impacts; and how Canada GBC’s dedicated Zero Carbon Building Standard makes carbon emissions the key indicator for building performance.

Furthermore, the emergence of pilot building projects which have supported the development of these standards is also encouraging, some already achieving certification such as in Brazil and South Africa, due to their measured performance data meeting the criteria of the respective schemes.

In May, during Canada Green Building Council’s Building Lasting Change conference, we launched our groundbreaking call to action report From Thousands to Billions. This report outlines our theory of change, based on coordinated action from business, government and NGOs, to achieve 100% net zero carbon buildings by 2050 (with new buildings from 2030). The report is proving incredibly influential on a global scale and has successfully raised the profile of what is possible in terms of net zero. We’re delighted it was mentioned in the press over 35 times and promoted via social media to over 250,000 people during the week it was published. In addition, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change posted the report on its website and issued a press release at COP23 that highlighted how important net zero buildings are to reach the goals set out by the Paris Agreement.

Our World Green Building Week 2017 campaign, with its theme of #OurHeroIsZero, showcased net zero buildings across our Green Building Council network, and we were thrilled at the response! Through our interactive social media campaigns and press work, we reached an estimated 24 million people around the world. And a week earlier at Climate Week in New York, we showcased the action that business leaders and policy makers are taking, firmly placing net zero buildings centre stage in the fight against climate change.

Through an extensive consultation process, and a dedicated session during our Members’ Day in Jaipur, India, in October, we have had the opportunity to hear directly from our GBCs about the barriers to net zero carbon buildings in their markets. This has led to the crucial expansion of the project scope beyond just certification schemes, to recognise other advocacy activities which promote net zero, for example, corporate and government engagement, training and education programmes. A total of 15 GBCs are now committed to advancing net zero in their markets. Find out who our participating GBCs are here.

We have been deeply inspired by the enthusiasm of the GBCs and their members right across the global network to overcome these challenges. This has led to the establishment of Regional Roundtables, starting with our MENA and Asia Pacific regions, to specifically explore the challenges and opportunities, stimulate collaboration, and foster partnerships.

We are also encouraged by the strong action being taken by major businesses, national and sub-national governments towards a net zero carbon built environment, and we intend to promote this leadership widely to galvanise others around this important movement.

So while I may be currently dreaming of a net zero future, it is the shared expertise and determination of all of these players that will help make that dream become a reality.

Happy holidays to you all!

Victoria Kate Burrows is the Project Manager for the WorldGBC’s Advancing Net Zero programme. For further information on the achievements of the Advancing Net Zero project, WorldGBC and its Green Building Councils, read our Annual Report 2016/17.​