To halve emissions from the built environment by 2030, we must act now
By Cristina Gamboa, CEO, World Green Building Council
COP26 has finally arrived in Glasgow, and the critical need for decisive climate action has never been greater. Our sector’s demand for natural resources fuels the climate crisis, and inefficient, unhealthy buildings affect our livelihoods.
As the two week programme kicks off today and we approach the Cities, Regions and Built Environment Day at COP26 on 11 November, we see progress within the buildings and construction sector. But this progress is well below the pace and scale needed to achieve the 1.5°C ambitions of the Paris Agreement.
Rising to the challenge requires nothing less than a complete transformation in the way we design, build, operate, deconstruct and value our buildings and infrastructure.
As stated in our network’s strategy Sustainable Buildings for Everyone, Everywhere, to truly combat the climate emergency, we must embrace a holistic approach to sustainability that benefits our planet, communities and economies.
In order to create a built environment that does not simply survive climate shocks, but thrives in spite of them, our strategy outlines North Star Goals across three impact areas: Climate Action, Health & Wellbeing, and Resources & Circularity.
No more excuses — no more bad buildings
As part of the #BuildingCOP26 Coalition, we have outlined shared goals to achieving a 1.5℃ future:
- By 2030, the built environment should halve its emissions, whereby 100% of new buildings must be net zero carbon in operation, with widespread energy efficiency retrofit of existing assets well underway, and embodied carbon must be reduced by at least 40%, with leading projects achieving at least 50% reductions in embodied carbon.
- By 2050, at the latest, all new and existing assets must be net zero across the whole life cycle, including operational and embodied emissions.
That’s why, earlier this year, World Green Building Council updated the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment to introduce enhanced requirements for tackling operational carbon emissions, and new requirements addressing embodied carbon.
In addition to optimising building operations to net zero, it recognises leadership action in achieving maximum embodied carbon reductions by 2030, and compensating for residual emissions via best practice offsets — a valuable part of the transition to net zero carbon.
This faster and further action from the frontrunners in the Race to Zero is unlocking the approaches, innovations and solutions to enable market transformation by:
- Stimulating the supply chain solutions necessary to prevent and mitigate operational and embodied emissions
- Increasing access to data and tools to enable low carbon decision making for optimised designs, operations, products and construction processes
- Generating a strong and urgent demand signal to supply chains and investors to activate the necessary finance to decarbonise heavy industry processes
- Requiring advocacy action from signatories via their business operations to advance net zero whole life carbon buildings
We are seeing increasing commitment from our sector to design, build and operate buildings within our means. This change is happening in real time, and we will continue to advocate for the very best practice approaches to solving these problems.
Governments must act now to accelerate climate action
The Commitment is a great example of how industry can play its part, but we also need governments to act.
And that’s where our #BuildingLife campaign comes in.
Across Europe, we are convening industry and political leaders to work towards ambitious policies that address embodied and operational carbon across the entire lifecycle of a building.
Alongside ten European Green Building Councils, we’re developing national decarbonisation roadmaps that will clearly outline how the sector can move forwards together to transition to net zero whole life carbon.
At the European level, we are developing a roadmap that outlines how Whole Life Carbon can be integrated into the EU Policy Framework.
Embracing deep sustainability
Our sector has a duty of care to human life and health to build back better. Corporate net zero targets do not address wider socio-economic issues such as fuel poverty, protection of biodiversity and community resilience.
If we are to accelerate wider holistic approaches to sustainability in the built environment, we must overcome two challenges — the fragmentation across the built environment system and uncovering the true financial, social and environmental value of a sustainable built environment.
An integrated approach to buildings and infrastructure is essential for optimum, sustainable outcomes, as addressed in our recent report Beyond Buildings. We must recognise the broader value proposition that sustainable buildings offer. We must embrace deep collaboration across the entire value chain. It’s time for every stakeholder across the value chain to play its part.
But we cannot do it alone
Having the Cities, Regions and Built Environment Day is a groundbreaking achievement for our movement and critical to positioning Green Building Councils as change accelerators.
More than 100 world leaders and delegations from over 200 countries, businesses, NGOs, faith groups and more will be engaged on the opportunity of the built environment as a critical climate solution. With events going hybrid for physical and online audiences, our collective message will be amplified to reach millions of people around the world.
With more than 100 events related to the built environment at COP26, find out what action you can take.
We invite you to join us in this next critical step towards achieving sustainable buildings for everyone, everywhere.
The #BuildingToCOP26 Coalition is a collaboration between leaders across the built environment. Working together, we are successfully influencing the outcomes of COP26 like never before.
We extend our gratitude to our valuable colleagues and partners:
- Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action
- UN High-Level Climate Champions of UK and Chile
- UK Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS)
- Laudes Foundation
- The Global Alliance for Building and Construction
- The Climate Group
- Resilience Shift
- World Resources Institute
- We Mean Business Coalition
- GBC Italia
The World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) catalyses the uptake of sustainable buildings for everyone, everywhere.
Transforming the building and construction sector across three strategic areas — climate action, health & wellbeing, and resources & circularity — we are a global action network of over 70 Green Building Councils around the world.
As members of the UN Global Compact, we work with businesses, organisations and governments to drive the ambitions of the Paris Agreement and UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Through a systems change approach, our network is leading the industry towards a net zero carbon, healthy, equitable and resilient built environment.
About Green Building Councils
Green Building Councils are independent, non-profit organisations accelerating the uptake of sustainable buildings.
As members of WorldGBC, they convene businesses and governments to collectively drive environmental, economic and social impact within the built environment on a national, regional and global scale.
For decades, the Green Building Council (GBC) movement has been collaborating and educating the building and construction sector on the opportunities to advance more sustainable development. With their collective impact, we are seeing a shift in investor priorities, policymaker ambitions, and private sector action — plus enhanced collaboration and passion towards reversing the impacts of our sector.
GBCs and their members are uniquely placed tocan take the actions and build the supportive infrastructure necessary to deliver on these global challenges on a local level.