IPCC report: Building Sector Emissions Growing; Green Buildings Can Be Solution

Chris Pyke, PhD
As building sector energy demand and emissions continue to grow, coordinated action on policies, tech, codes, and standards can make a global difference.

Chris Pyke, vice president of research at the U.S. Green Building Council, is a lead author for Chapter 9: Residential and Commercial Buildings in the third installment of a new report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the final volume of its Fifth Assessment on Sunday in Berlin.  This landmark report addresses the opportunities, costs, and benefits of action to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions – the primary driver of anthropogenic climate change.  The new report completes the set, complementing the first two volumes which tackled the science of climate change and the impacts of a warming world on people and the environment.

The new report is another scientific tour de force reflecting years of work by hundreds of scientists around the world.  The authors reviewed thousands of scientific publications to provide a comprehensive review and synthesis of fast moving issues.  Underneath all the details, the report boils down to several simple messages:

  1. Energy use and associated greenhouse gas emissions have grown, are growing, and will continue to grow without aggressive, coordinated action.  In the building sector alone, this could lead to a doubling of energy use and emissions by 2050.  If this growth occurs and is met with traditional energy sources, it may be impossible to avoid dramatic, damaging warming beyond 4 degrees C.
  2. The technology and skills needed to break from this “business-as-usual” scenario and make dramatic reductions in energy use and emissions already exist.  This includes the policies and technologies needed to make new buildings 50% to 90% more energy efficient than current prevailing practice and dramatically improve the performance of existing buildings.  This can halt the growth of building related emissions by 2050.
  3. Delaying aggressive action “locks in” poor energy performance for decades into the future.  This will make it harder to find low cost pathways to avoid the most severe climate impacts described in previous IPCC reports.
  4. Achieving large scale emissions reductions in the building sector will require sustained and coordinated action on policy, standards, technology, implementation, and evaluation across the life cycle of built environments – from the earliest stages of planning into design, construction, operation, and end-of-life.  This will include a focus on operational energy efficiency, as well as entire building supply chains and complex interactions with individual behavior and culture.

The bottom line is that buildings – in the broadest sense – must be part of a coordinated, economy-wide effort to address greenhouse gas emissions.  Buildings offer some of the most cost effective mitigation opportunities and, the absence of action in the building sector, creates long term challenges.

Fortunately, tens of thousands of green building projects around the world have demonstrated that it is possible to create cost-effective, high performance buildings that benefit people and the environment.  IPCC’s landmark report underscores the global importance of this effort and the need to deepen and scale up these efforts in the years ahead.

The executive summary of the new report is available from http://www.ipcc-wg3.de

Chris Pyke, PhD
GRESB, Chief Operating Officer, helping lead a global team using data and transparency to drive positive change in the real estate industry. Learn more on GRESB.com and GBIG.com.