Zero Carbon Building Accelerator

Helping cities reduce building emissions to meet climate goals

Istanbul, December 2020. Photo by WRI Turkey Sustainable Cities.

Building construction and operations account for nearly 40% of energy-related CO2 emissions globally, making them among the largest contributors to climate change. With population growth, urbanization and the need for cooling in a warming world only increasing, the global building stock is set to double by 2060. Without dramatic energy efficiency improvements and decarbonization of the energy used, energy demand for buildings will continue to drive massive absolute increases in carbon emissions.

Buildings are also the biggest, most cost-effective climate mitigation solution available. Every $1 invested in efficiency alone, for example, saves $2 in new electricity generation and distribution costs.

Yet despite their extraordinary potential to drive a more sustainable future, 80% of economically viable energy savings in buildings remain untapped. To meet carbon reduction and resilience goals, the world’s building stock must be zero carbon by 2050.

Since 2015, World Resources Institute’s Buildings Initiative has led the Building Efficiency Accelerator (BEA), a global partnership in support of the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All initiative to assist national and subnational governments with policy and programming to improve energy efficiency. The Zero Carbon Building Accelerator builds on this success and takes lessons, expertise and resources from the BEA to new ambitions, with a broader mandate to support global implementation of urgent climate goals through decarbonizing the world’s buildings by 2050.

The Zero Carbon Building Accelerator will help cities eliminate building emissions at four levels:

  1. Outreach: Work with national governments to map potential building decarbonization pathways and adopt public commitments on zero carbon buildings.
  2. Dialogue: Explore how to achieve zero carbon building commitments through facilitated policy dialogues with national and local governments, utilities, the private sector and civil society.
  3. Plan: Develop and initiate short- and medium-term action plans and long-term national roadmaps linked to Nationally Determined Contributions and/or other national strategies to achieve zero carbon buildings by 2050.
  4. Enable: Develop and initiate adoption of policies to support subnational governments, utilities, the private sector and civil society to accelerate market transformation towards zero carbon buildings.

What Is a Zero Carbon Building?

Zero carbon buildings have a net zero amount of carbon emissions associated with their annual energy demand. This is achieved by:

  • Implementing energy efficiency improvements to reduce energy demand
  • Meeting energy needs with on- or off-site zero-carbon, renewable energy sources (and where necessary: high-quality, certified, and preferably local offsets)
  • Electrification of building space and water heating and digitalization to provide needed flexibility
  • In some locations, taking a district- or portfolio-level approach to a combined net zero carbon result

How Will WRI Scale Up Impact?

Colombia and Turkey will lead national engagement by tapping into the networks of longstanding BEA partners, the Colombia Green Building Council and WRI Turkey Sustainable Cities, as well as the political engagement of the UNFCCC Zero Carbon Buildings for All Initiative. Ministries in these countries have committed to working with WRI to pioneer the development and adoption of the most comprehensive national building sector decarbonization roadmaps to date.

At the subnational level, the Zero Carbon Building Accelerator and participating ministries will engage at least two jurisdictions in each country to develop and implement actions aligned with national-level roadmaps that build on existing city priorities. Through direct support, peer learning and capacity building from our leading engagement partners – including the World Green Building Council, ICLEI and a wide network of technical experts – WRI will support at least six subnational governments in developing municipal-level building sector decarbonization roadmaps.

Project partners will then work with development banks and the financial community to pursue new business models for building decarbonization. Lessons will be captured and shared about roadmaps and policies at the global, regional, national and subnational levels that can enable one another and be supported by private sector action.

In every country, some building sectors are more advanced in their progress towards energy efficiency and decarbonization than others. For example, informal housing presents a challenge for decarbonization and will require a pathway that looks different than for institutional and commercial buildings. Additionally, while including the embodied emissions of materials and construction will be critical to achieving zero carbon buildings, some markets are better equipped to address this problem today than others. WRI will provide a forum to think through the barriers and pathways for different sectors in consultation with diverse stakeholders, enabling governments to envision and support policies and actions that move us forward.

If interested in learning more, please contact:

Clay Nesler, Global Lead, Buildings and Energy, WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, clay.nesler@wri.org

Shannon Hilsey, Project Manager, Buildings Initiative, WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, shannon.hilsey@wri.org

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