Cristina Gamboa, CEO, World Green Building Council
It’s now or never – the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that current national pledges are not ambitious enough to stop global warming from exceeding 1.5°C.
Yesterday (4 April 2022), IPCC published its final of three reports, focusing on the actions we can take to reduce and remove greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere, in order to mitigate the irreversible impacts of climate change.
For those of us in the sustainable built environment movement, it is a clear reminder of what we already know – our industry must act, and we must act now.
Our sector’s demand for natural resources fuels the climate crisis
IPCC tells us that in order to keep the world under 1.5°C, we need emissions to peak by 2025 (or earlier) and be halved by 2030.
The optimist in me clings on to the fact that scientists of the report still believe there is hope of keeping the 1.5°C scenario within reach.
However the nagging voice in my ear – the one I try to suppress – questions whether governments and industry will react in time to deliver the deep emission reductions we need immediately.
There is hope for the built environment
For the built environment, the report revealed some promising information about our sector’s potential to accelerate climate action.
Most encouraging is the verdict that net zero buildings can be delivered at scale by 2050, but only if policy packages are effectively implemented and barriers to decarbonisation removed. And these packages must combine a purposeful trifecta of sufficiency, efficiency, and renewable energy measures.
What we need is the perfect union of political ambition and financial incentives to make this happen at scale.
The report suggests that 61% of global building emissions could be reduced by 2050, with the largest share of mitigation potential coming from new buildings in developing countries, and the renovation of existing buildings in developed countries.
These mitigation interventions also have significant potential to address wider socio-economic issues, and help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in all regions, while future-proofing buildings for changing climates.
The challenge of embodied carbon has long been a contention point for our industry. However, this report finds that embodied emissions can be addressed by limiting a new building’s required floor space, and reducing the quantity and intensity of material emissions through rigorous efficiency measures.
Many of the solutions already exist
The report does acknowledge that integrated design approaches to the construction and retrofit of buildings has already led to zero energy, or zero carbon buildings in several regions.
We know that the solutions already exist to help us achieve net zero buildings, but we need radical, systemic transformation in the way we design, build, operate, deconstruct and value our buildings and infrastructure.
Key actions our community must take to realise our sector’s potential
- Building codes – governments must implement ambitious building codes that address the total carbon impact of the built environment.
- Deep collaboration – we cannot work in silos anymore. Organisations across the value chain must collaborate and innovate to drive systemic change and close the gap between design and built assets.
- Communicate – industry and governments must champion greater ambition and showcase solutions that we already know exist.
We all have a role to play
Our network of over 70 Green Building Councils (GBCs) are working across the value chain to implement these solutions. GBCs are leveraging the global and regional programmes we champion at WorldGBC, and collectively drive the systemic change at the scale that is needed.
As industry leaders, I urge you to keep pushing and contributing from wherever you stand in the value chain to advance sustainable built environments for everyone, everywhere.
We all have a role to play in this climate fight and it’s time to keep fighting.
Read the report summary.