Zero Carbon Buildings for All

Raising ambition to decarbonize the building sector everywhere

Zero carbon buildings are crucial to global climate goals.

The importance of zero carbon buildings (ZCBs) to a sustainable future is clear. Buildings are responsible for nearly 30% of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. Fortunately, reducing energy demand in buildings also represents the most cost-effective way to tackle climate change and better buildings can add important co-benefits, like improving health and quality of life for residents and workers.

The Zero Carbon Buildings for All Initiative

The Zero Carbon Buildings for All Initiative, launched at the 2019 UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit in New York, unites leaders across sectors in a strong international coalition to decarbonize the building sector and meet climate goals.

Zero Carbon Buildings for All's core components include securing commitments from two audiences:

  • National and local leaders, to develop and implement policies to drive decarbonization of all new buildings by 2030 and all existing buildings by 2050
  • Financial and industry partners, to provide expert input and commit $1 trillion of market action by 2030

This joint initiative represents a step change in the ambition of policymakers, advocates and the private sector.

The national governments announcing their commitment to Zero Carbon Buildings for All include KenyaTurkey, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. See here for an example of progress currently underway in the UAE.

The high-level platform on Infrastructure, Cities and Local Action at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit.

Financial institution supporters include African Development Bank, International Finance Corporation, Investment Fund for Developing Countries (Denmark), European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, European Investment Bank, and others.

Private sector leaders have also stepped up to offer technical expertise, including world-class building design firms like Gensler and BuroHappold, and building technologies firms like ROCKWOOL Group and Saint-Gobain, among others.

Civil society partners include the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction, Global Environment Facility, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Program for Energy Efficiency in Buildings, Urban Land Institute, World Economic Forum, World Green Building Council, World Resources Institute, and others.

These commitments join those galvanized by complementary efforts like the World Green Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment and the Global Alliance for Building and Construction’s Global Call.

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Read the brief.
Read the full proposal.


This webinar presents detailed information about the proposal, with guest speakers from national governments, development banks and civil society.

What Are ZCBs?

ZCBs are buildings with a net zero amount of carbon emissions associated with their annual energy demand. ZCBs achieve this by:

  • Implementing high levels of energy efficiency
  • Meeting energy needs with on- or off-site renewable energy sourcing

In some cases, as a last resort, buildings can also partly achieve net zero emissions through carbon offsets, which often come in the form of renewable energy investments elsewhere. Offsets, however, are only recommended for cases in which a 100% renewable energy supply is not feasible.

While in the past ZCBs have been seen as a target only wealthy countries could reach, there are policy pathways today to reach zero carbon buildings regardless of location or development status.

How Do We Achieve ZCBs?

We have the technology to achieve ZCBs in nearly every context; what national and local leaders need are policy pathways and financing solutions. There are multiple ways to achieve ZCBs through combinations of energy efficiency, renewable energy and carbon offsets, in the following order of priority:

Order of priorities for zero carbon buildings

The more carbon avoided through efficiency, the better. Energy efficiency is generally the cheapest approach, and remaining energy needs can then be met with greener energy supply.

In addition to the set of principles shown above, municipal, national and state governments have different roles and degrees of influence in achieving ZCB pathways. These guiding principles lay the groundwork for a menu of pathways to arrive at net zero carbon for individual buildings, districts and building portfolios – turning carbon neutrality from an aspiration into a target well within reach.

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