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COP27: Built environment accelerates climate action

At COP27, the BuildingToCOP Coalition, of which the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) is a key member, kept the focus on the built environment as a critical solutions provider for a resilient and zero-emissions future.

Published: 17 Nov 2022
Type: News

Sharm el-Sheikh, 17 November – Operational emissions from the built environment increased by 5% last year compared to 2020 levels, but with more than 200 events and several new climate action initiatives launched at COP27, the sector has shown that it has the climate solutions ready to scale now. WBCSD, as part of the BuildingToCOP Coalition, rallied the sector, responsible for almost 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions, around flagship events focused on the key themes of finance, decarbonization, and adaptation & resilience.  

Many important built environment actions and initiatives have been announced during the climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt: 
 
Decarbonization: 

  • Business of Climate Recovery: Accelerating Accountability, Ambition & Action: This agenda, released by WBCSD, sets out interventions for accelerating the global decarbonization of business, supporting business leaders, in close collaboration with governments, to sharpen accountability, raise ambition, and deliver action at speed and scale. Two priority action areas for the built environment are:
    • Developing national and sub-national decarbonization and resilience roadmaps to address energy performance and whole lifecycle emissions for new and old buildings. 
    • Placing whole-life carbon at the center of decarbonization strategies and decisions. 
  • 2030 Built Environment Breakthrough Outcome: The UN High-Level Climate Champions built on the 2030 Breakthrough Outcome for the built environment by launching a series of near-term way-point actions needed across all levers for systems change from supply to demand to policy implementation. 
  • 2022 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction: The report is a flagship publication of the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (GlobalABC) and provides an annual snapshot on the progress of the buildings and construction sector globally. This year’s report found that emissions and energy demand have increased beyond the pre-pandemic peak. The sector is not on track to achieve decarbonization by 2050 despite a substantial increase in investment and in the number of countries that include buildings as part of their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).  
  • The Race to Zero continues: The percentage of construction companies, by revenue, that have joined the Race to Zero has doubled since COP26. Contractors have committed to halving their emissions by 2030 at the very latest, across all scopes. The construction sector organizations now committed to Race to Zero total over USD $245 billion in revenue.   

Resilience: 

  • Buildings Breakthrough: a country commitment: On 17 November at the Buildings Pavilion at COP27, and following the Breakthrough Agenda launched at COP26 aiming to strengthen international collaboration on the decarbonization of high-emitting sectors (transport, power, hydrogen, steel, agriculture), France and the Kingdom of Morocco re-confirmed their leadership calling for a Buildings Breakthrough for ‘near zero emissions and resilient buildings to be the new normal by 2030’ with the support of Armenia, Austria, Canada, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Germany, India, Mauritania, Mongolia, Morocco, The Netherlands, Norway, Senegal, Turkey and the UK. They collectively invited all countries to join. 
  • WorldGBC Guide to Climate Resilience and Adaptation in the Built Environment: Launched ahead of COP27 in collaboration with the UN High-Level Climate Champions and C40 Cities, the WorldGBC Guide to Climate Resilience and Adaptation in the Built Environment provides actionable principles for implementing climate resilience and adaptation strategies across the built environment value chain. 
  • Roof Over Our Heads: This campaign, launched at COP27, addresses the lack of access to safe and decent houses for the most vulnerable communities, with the goal of improving the lives of 2 billion climate-vulnerable people living in informal settlements by 2050. Roof Over Our Heads is a partnership between The Society for Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC), Slum Dwellers International (SDI), Global Resilience Partnership, and a number of supporting organizations. The campaign is in collaboration with the UN High-Level Climate Champions. 

Finance: 

  • Paris Aligned Asset Owners: The Paris Aligned Asset Owners initiative (PAAO) coordinated by AIGCC, Ceres, IGCC and IIGCC, is an international group of 57 asset owners representing over $3.3 trillion assets under management (AUM) committed to supporting the goal of net zero greenhouse gas emission by 2050 or sooner, has published its first Progress Report. The report showcases innovation and best practice amongst asset owners for turning net zero commitments into action and the steps being taken to reach their net zero goals. 
  • Asset Managers in the Race to Zero: Less than two years since the initiative launched, the total number of asset managers committing to net zero through the Net Zero Asset Managers (NZAM) initiative has increased to 291, representing $66 trillion (AUM). Collectively signatories have now committed on average 39% of assets to net zero by 2050, with all NZAM signatories committing to ratchet up with a view to reaching 100%. 

Marking an opportunity for Africa: 

  • Africa Manifesto for Sustainable Cities and the Built Environment: The Africa Manifesto was launched ahead of COP27, articulating policies related to energy, water, materials, finance and infrastructure that African business leaders, city and government officials must support to deliver the ‘Africa We Want’: a net zero carbon, healthy, resilient, equitable, socially and economically inclusive built environment for everyone, everywhere. The Manifesto is a collaborative work developed with 15 African Green Building Councils (GBCs), WorldGBC and the BuildingToCOP Coalition partners (HighLevel Climate Champions, We Mean Business, C40 Cities).
  • African Alliance for Sustainable Cities and Built Environments: WorldGBC announced the launch of the African Alliance for Sustainable Cities and Built Environments at COP27. Cities and businesses in Africa need to commit to drastically reducing their emissions before 2050, but a net-zero transition cannot happen without the mobilization of the workforce of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). The Alliance will serve as a regional platform to enable collaboration and knowledge sharing for the built environment across the continent. 

Dr Mahmoud Mohieldin, UN Climate Change High-Level Champion for Egypt, COP27, said: 

“The built environment is a critical sector to achieve the needed transition to a resilient and zero emissions future. Buildings are responsible for almost 40% of global energy-related carbon emissions and 50% of all extracted materials.  
 
In Africa alone, with increasing population growth and rapid unplanned urbanization, there is mounting demand for buildings. We have an urgent need to meet rapid delivery of resilient homes and buildings, and we need to avoid ‘locking’ emissions in inefficient construction.  
 
This is an investment opportunity, with bankable projects seeking finance at scale. Reducing emissions through green buildings comes with a USD $24.7 trillion investment opportunity over the next decade across emerging market cities. From finance to energy to job creation, the built environment can accelerate resilience and climate action across all parts of the economy.” 

Why the built environment is a critical sector to achieve the needed transition to a resilient and zero-emissions future 

Over 37% of global energy-related CO2 emissions are generated by the built environment. In 2021, operational CO2 emissions from the buildings sector were 5% higher compared to 2020, and 2% higher than the previous peak in 2019.  

Globally, approximately 100 billion tonnes of waste is caused by construction, renovation and demolition, with about 35% sent to landfills. Construction material use, which already accounts for 9% of overall energy-related CO2 emissions, is predicted to double by 2060. Growth in emissions is driven by rapid urbanization, with about five billion m2 of new floor area space added annually — the equivalent of building the size of Paris once a week.  

We see positive progress in some areas. Investments in building energy efficiency rose by 16% in 2021 over 2020 levels, reaching USD $237 billion. In 2021, 158 countries referenced buildings in their Nationally Determined Contributions, up from 135 in 2020, and the number of green building certifications worldwide increased by 19% compared to 2020. This progress is encouraging, but we need more, now.  

BuildingToCOP Coalition plans for COP28 

COP27 has shown that we have the solutions to create a better built environment and that we can no longer afford inefficient, unhealthy, high-emitting buildings in transforming the sector and reaching the critical goals of halving emissions by 2030 and achieving net zero by 2050. 

The BuildingToCOP Coalition calls on COP28 to prioritize the built environment as an urgent and critical climate solution. A built environment day at COP28 will keep the pressure on decision-makers, continue to rally the sector, and bring the diverse sector together to collaborate and put these solutions into action. 

All built environment initiatives announced at COP27 

Read the full list of initiatives that are collectively driving deep collaboration and triggering a positive systemic transformation in the built environment. 

Read the full press release here.

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