Climate success in Paris: the buildings sector's key role


Climate, Energy & Sustainability

Picture of Oliver Rapf
Oliver Rapf

The buildings sector’s crucial role in mitigating climate change is finally being recognised.

For the first time in the history of climate negotiations, a Buildings Day will be held December 3 at the COP21 UN conference on climate change in Paris.

It will bring together innovative businesses and UN negotiators to work for the future of our planet.

The mandate of the meeting comes from the Lima-Paris Action Agenda agreed last year in the Peruvian capital to mobilise international action aimed at limiting global warming to a maximum of 1.5 ºC to 2ºC.

Without significant action by the buildings sector, this target will not be met.

Policies to promote innovation and enable the transformation of building stock must be better targeted

Buildings are responsible for more than 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions. If current trends continue, CO2emissions caused by the sector are expected to increase by 70% by 2050 and energy consumption will double.

Over the same period, the expected growth of floor area to provide shelter and comfort for an increasingly wealthy and larger global population will more than double the area covered by existing buildings.

That need for more space and better living conditions can be met while cutting CO2 emissions by approximately 40% compared to 2005 levels using known technologies, according to an expert study organised by the Global Buildings Performance Network (GBPN).

With innovative new technologies and expected cost reductions, climate-damaging emissions can be further cut, leading to an eventual complete decarbonisation of the sector.

To achieve these goals, the existing building stock will have to improve its energy performance significantly and new buildings must be made smarter, super-efficient and CO2-lean.

Low-carbon technologies are already being applied to renovations and new building projects, but their market share is too low.

Policies to promote innovation and enable the transformation of building stock must be better targeted – taking into account the specific needs of renovation and new construction.

There needs to be a greater recognition of the unique opportunities for new services and products stemming from the renewable energy and energy efficiency streams in the buildings sector.

The European Union has made a commitment to eliminate the negative climate impact of buildings. In a number of strategy documents, it has highlighted greenhouse gas reduction opportunities of up to 95% by the middle of the century.

Legislation to improve the energy performance of European buildings was introduced in 2002 and reinforced in 2010. Implementation, however, is not moving fast enough.

An ongoing review of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) should confirm the urgent need to do more.

Renovation rates in Europe are too low and most national standards for new buildings fall below what is needed to future-proof the building stock.

With innovative new technologies and expected cost reductions, climate-damaging emissions can be further cut

This is bad news for the climate and for the construction industry which cannot fully benefit from business and innovation opportunities.

In response, the EU should upgrade its buildings policy to support the competitive lead of Europe’s energy efficiency industry.

The concept of low-energy buildings and energy-positive homes was developed in Europe along with the technologies and products used in these buildings.

It should not be forgotten that, while manufacturing jobs will move to cheaper locations globally, the renovation and construction of buildings will always be local and regional. This means the employment and economic opportunities associated with staying below the 2ºC global warming thresholdare enormous. An ambitious agreement in Paris will allow businesses to grow both in the renovation-led European market and in dynamic new buildings markets in other regions.

The Buildings Day at COP21 will showcase action already taken by the buildings industry. In addition, a Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (Global ABC) will be officially launched on that day with the aim of putting the sector firmly on track to stay below the 2ºC threshold.

The Alliance will commit to helping countries achieve their so-called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which are an essential driver for implementing an ambitious global climate agreement. The Global ABC consists of businesses, cities, governments, research organisations and institutions all aiming to scale up climate solutions in the buildings and construction sector.

Buildings provide one of the most essential human needs: shelter. Adequate housing is a human right in itself, a right that can only be fulfilled if buildings are climate-proofed, energy-efficient, and heated and cooled by renewable energy to the highest possible degree.

Related activities

view all
view all
view all
Track title


Stop playback
Video title


Africa initiative logo