Developers are already meeting climate targets for new buildings – it’s time we did too

While the world’s headlines will most likely focus on the final roll out of the Paris climate agreement next week in Katowice, Poland, a new study reports that the majority of new homes under…

Developers are already meeting climate targets for new buildings – it's time we did too

While the world’s headlines will most likely focus on the final roll out of the Paris climate agreement next week in Katowice, Poland, a new study reports that the majority of new homes under construction globally will meet the same ambitious goals of the agreement by 2020.

Among emerging economies and countries in transition, private sector efforts to build net zero zero energy homes is growing at triple the rate of all other segments of the housing industry, the survey of leading 20 urban and development companies across North America, Europe and China found. And by 2040, more than half of the world’s roughly 2.3 billion new homes will be net zero, offering climate and energy savings.

“There’s a feeling among developers that they can make an impact now, when there’s a deadline,” says Thomas Deller, one of the report’s authors.

The first annual “sustainable growth” survey of the 20 companies, which range from condominiums to urban transportation projects, is significant because it emphasizes both the effort being made to meet the 100% net zero goals laid out in the Paris agreement and also the range of available technologies required to achieve them.

“We could do a lot with that 85% net zero, but we could do a lot more than that,” says Deller, referring to the projected levels of innovation, including using rooftop solar panels, battery storage, geo-thermal energy and wind turbines.

The findings reflect one of the biggest criticisms of the pledge to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels: that it is not technically feasible, politically feasible or economically feasible in many places. The new report acknowledges that.

“Only one third of current projects are actually expected to reach the net zero energy ambition, because the costs of those technologies are too expensive,” says Nick Goldman, a partner at the consulting firm AECOM.

However, the survey suggests that by and large, home construction is following an innovation trajectory. There is, for example, a broad movement toward doing more solar power for homes and putting it on roofs, as well as more wind power for buildings, with subsidies, and less reliance on coal and natural gas. In the survey’s North American segment, many developers don’t even mention coal or natural gas.

Though the trend for some research groups of insulating new buildings is rising faster than at ground level, residential buildings are expected to face the highest rate of building change in the coming decade. Additionally, the survey predicts there will be greater energy and water use by construction projects being completed in the next two decades than there are now.

The growth in the technologies used for cutting the use of power and water inside and outside buildings is a dynamic that is reshaping development across much of the world and has been amply supported by recent scientific reports.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance and others in their recent analyses have noted the dramatic, year-on-year reductions in carbon emissions (down by about 3.6% annually) that have been achieved by installing solar panels on new buildings.

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