The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates building-related GHG emissions are expected to nearly double by the year 2030 under a high-growth development scenario. This increase would take place almost entirely in the developing world, as energy consumption increases with the growing demand for housing, commercial office space, and other building types. Meanwhile, North America and Western Europe have thus far missed significant opportunities to address their own emissions from existing building stocks, and without action, are not projected to do so over the next 20 years. Comprehensive policies and strategies to make buildings more efficient would both avoid emission growth in the developing world and reduce it in industrialized nations.
Current and Projected Building Sector Emissions by World Region
Despite these facts, sustainable buildings have received alarmingly little attention on a global scale. Reducing and avoiding emissions from this sector can be achieved with available, off-the-shelf technologies, but the road to implementation is fraught with obstacles. The various processes designed to facilitate technology cooperation, finance, and mitigation largely fail to address the nuanced problems in the building sector. For example, out of the 4,500 Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects submitted for review, only 14 address building efficiency. Bilateral efforts often prioritize the building sector for joint action but are, by design, limited in their geographic focus.
At this critical juncture, leadership in the building sector is nothing short of essential. Buildings offer us the single largest global opportunity to make deep emission cuts at low, no, and even negative cost. By increased efficiency alone, the residential and commercial sectors can achieve up to a 29% emissions cut below projected levels by 2020, at no cost. Importantly, the energy savings and emission reduction potential in buildings is relatively independent of the price of carbon; savings remain largely consistent across large price fluctuations up to $100/ton of CO2-equivalent. This finding leads to the conclusion that the building sector has the greatest potential to achieve emission reductions across all global sectors, in all regions, and at all cost levels.
As shown in the graph above, developing countries represent the greatest opportunity for reductions, underscoring the need for an international effort to rapidly enhance sustainable building practices in such countries and to capitalize on this emission reduction potential.