According to CarbonBrief, despite the global pandemic, where the world has paused, COVID-19 is set to decrease global carbon emissions by only 8%.
Why? Because 39% of energy-related carbon emissions come from buildings. And with the COVID-19 crisis pushing much of the world into their homes, we are consuming more energy at home than at work.
A wake-up call? Absolutely. That’s why at the World Green Building Council (WGBC) we see the need to go further and faster to decarbonise. And we want to take the whole built environment sector with us.
Our sustainability movement has demonstrated that the building and construction industry can design, build and operate buildings to be more efficient and healthier for people throughout the entirety of a building’s lifecycle. There are inspiring examples from around the world proving what can be done. But most of the buildings that exist today were developed long before these solutions were possible. We have an enormous challenge to renovate them, and ensure they are fit for purpose in today’s and tomorrow’s uncertain world.
As companies make long-term switches to home working, the design community must support this transition. They can do this by delivering these spaces through flexible and high-quality housing that supports thriving local communities. Equitable access to digital infrastructure, large-scale renovation and refurbishment of existing buildings to sustainability principles is crucial to ensure they are future-proofed.
Every building counts as they are our planet’s largest consumers of energy. Measures to reduce consumption and energy waste in buildings offer the fastest way to unlock carbon savings, but they are often overlooked and deprioritised. As we overcome the immediate and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must focus on resilience. Net zero building can benefit people, economies and the planet and must form a part of the bold and decisive action necessary to tackle the climate emergency.
There is reason for optimism: the net zero building movement is growing. On 5 June, WGBC announced that nearly 100 corporations, organisations and governments had signed up to our global commitment to make buildings net zero. The new signatories are committed to ensuring that all buildings they own, occupy and/or develop will operate at net zero carbon by 2030, or earlier. Sixty-one of the participants are businesses and organisations, and collectively their action alone will reduce more than 3.3 million tonnes of carbon emissions.
But to enable this transition, we need bolder, more ambitious regulations. WGBC’s next call for action will be aimed at governments and policymakers with the kick-off of our 11th annual World Green Building Week 21 to 25 September. The event’s theme is #ActOnClimate and we are using our collective global advocacy for a greener built environment to galvanise governments to take concrete action for the decarbonisation of buildings.
Although the pandemic has moderated air pollution, cleared the skies and reduced the daily commute and associated emissions, we must ensure these short-term wins are not reversed as we recover. We cannot waste the opportunity to learn from this crisis.
It’s time we emerge more appreciative of nature and its limits. It’s time we embrace innovation and invest in a green economic recovery that creates jobs and clean energy infrastructure. It’s time we deliver net zero, healthy, equitable and sustainable built environments everywhere for everyone.