‘Paris Agreement-proof’ buildings needed to curtail soaring emissions

Energy demand from the building sector will double by mid-century without widespread adoption of low-carbon technologies and a significant improvement in building and appliance efficiencies, new analysis has found.

The latest Climate Action Tracker from science and policy institute Climate Analytics concludes that the buildings sector is not adopting existing emissions-reducing technologies at a suitable rate to fall in-line with the climate targets set within the soon-to-be-ratified Paris Agreement.

Between 1990-2010, average building emissions almost doubled, now representing 20% of global emissions. The CAT predicts this figure to double again by 2050 based on current policy and sector approaches.

“The continued growth of emissions in the building sector is in direct contrast with the maturity of the technological solutions available,” said Sebastian Sterl of climate research group NewClimate Institute – one of the research partners for the report. “The tools have been there for decades, but the sector’s using them far too little.”

To ensure the building sector is compatible with the 1.5C global warming target set out in the Paris Agreement, all new buildings in OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries will need to be effectively ‘zero-energy’ by 2020, followed by all non-OECD countries in 2025, the CAT claims.

However, there exist barriers to reaching this future. Specifically, the report highlights the large upfront investment costs and lack of incentives and regulatory support as key challenges in reducing energy use in construction. Additionally, barriers between landlords and tenants exist where landlords are reluctant to invest in renewable energy solutions for buildings due receiving no direct benefit from reducing a buildings energy use, the CAT reports.

Karlien Wouters of energy and carbon efficiency consultancy firm Ecofys – another research parner behind the report – added: “We have to start building ‘Paris Agreement-proof’ buildings today. Given the long lifetimes of buildings, rapid action is especially important in this sector. Any inefficient buildings we construct today will have to be renovated at greater cost later, adding to the challenge we’re already facing in renovating the majority of the existing building stock.”

Over the past year, an increasing number of businesses within the built environment sector have turned to demand response as a viable method of driving down energy demand and operating costs across their buildings and operations. Donna Hunt, sustainability manager for one of Britain’s largest construction materials supplier Aggregate Industries, recently told edie  that using demand-response was a “no-brainer” for her firm, as it saves energy, cuts carbon emissions and provides a new revenue stream.

This is the second in the CAT series of decarbonisation reports which look at what needs to be done to reduce emissions within energy-intensive sectors. The first report, released last month, analysed the transport sector and concluded that zero-emission vehicles will need to hold a dominant automotive market share by 2035 for the Paris Agreement’s global warming target of 1.5C to be truly achievable.

Alex Baldwin

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