That is the conclusion of a new report from the Commission for Environmental Co-operation (CEC).

Green Building in North America: Opportunities and Challenges says buildings release about 35% of the continent’s total CO2 emissions and this could be the quickest and cheapest way to reduce North America’s impact on climate change.

The CEC, an organisation established by Canada, Mexico and the US to examine environmental issues affecting the three nations, said rapid uptake of existing and emerging energy-saving technologies could save 1,700 megatons of CO2 in 2030.

This is almost equivalent to the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the entire US transport sector in 2000.

Green building currently only accounts for 2% of the new non-residential building market in North America, less than 0.5% of the residential market in the US and Canada, and even less in Mexico.

“Improving our built environment is probably the single greatest opportunity to protect and enhance the natural environment,” said Adrián Vázquez, the CEC’s executive director.

“Green building represents some of the ripest ‘low-hanging fruit’ for achieving significant reductions in climate change emissions.”

The report calls for the public and private sectors to embrace substantial changes to the planning, development and financing of commercial and residential buildings to overcome barriers to widespread green building.

Jonathan Westeinde, managing partner of The Windmill Development Group, based in Ottawa in the US, said: “This report shows what is needed to scale up and put green building at the heart of an energy-secure North America.”

The CEC is recommending the creation of national task forces to achieve more green building, and for governments to set clear targets to achieve the quickest possible adoption of greener building and zero-carbon buildings in North America.

Kate Martin

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie