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Efficient architecture

Friday 25 August 2017

The World Green Building Council have announced that all buildings need to be 'net zero carbon' by the year 2050.

In order to achieve targets set by the Paris climate agreement, the World Green Building Council has announced that all new buildings need to be ‘net zero carbon’ by 2030, and all existing buildings by 2050.

The Paris Agreement, which was adopted in December 2015, provides an international framework aimed at limiting the average global temperature rise to well below 2◦C, implemented through actions determined at the national level. In order to achieve 'net zero carbon', buildings and homes must balance the amount of carbon released during construction, with an equivalent amount sequestered or offset to make up the difference.

But the shift to ultra energy-efficient and low-carbon homes and buildings is huge, and the gap between aspiration and achievement apparent. Currently, there are only around 2,500 buildings worldwide that meet this target, with about thirty thousand passive houses, which follow the principle of minimal environmental impact, but don’t have to be zero carbon.

When it comes to residential buildings, the German-led Passivhaus voluntary standard sets the bar high, with the essential goal of achieving exceptionally low energy bills. A similar standard, MINERGIE-P, is also used in Switzerland.

The UK

The UK’s 2008 Climate Change Act set a target of an 80 per cent cut in domestic greenhouse gas emissions, compared to 1990 levels, and tasked the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) with giving guidance to the government on the lowest cost route to achieve this goal. The CCC advised the Government would have to up their ambition to reach net-zero emission goals. However, in the wake of the Paris deal, they said there was no need to make such changes for now.

Research published by the UCL Energy Institute, concludes however that the UK is set to fail to meet the goals set out in the Paris Agreement unless the Government cuts emissions far more rapidly than currently planned. The paper, concludes that the UK should aim to be carbon neutral by 2070 at the latest if it is to play its part in meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

In preparation, a growing number of UK universities - including Nottingham, Sheffield, UWE and Portsmouth - have now made changes to their architecture courses, making sustainability a core offering.

Other countries are fairing better

The 2015 Paris Agreement set a long-term goal, and whilst the national pledges by countries to cut emissions are voluntary, only a handful of countries so far – including Bhutan, Costa Rica and Norway – have commissioned government-backed national studies to explore net-zero transitions.

Elsewhere in the world, Canada are getting a head start when it comes to low carbon buildings with the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. The driving force behind energy efficient buildings, the framework sets out a number of key commitments that will offer some of the lowest cost, most rapidly achievable greenhouse-gas reductions, meeting Canada’s longer-term decarbonization goals, as well as reducing energy costs for Canadians through improved energy efficiency.

The Green Building Council Brasil has also unveiled a new net zero building certification scheme to meet the Paris Agreement. By using renewable energy which is generated on-site or off-site to achieve net zero carbon emissions annually in operation, the Brazillian scheme prioritises energy efficiency. Any remaining energy demand for the building not met through energy efficiency or renewables, being offset using Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs). 

Finally, the Emirates Green Building Council (EmiratesGBC) launches a new website to promote the building of green homes, offices and schools. Powered by BASF and Legrand (EmiratesGBC corporate members), the website provides interactive resources to help the construction industry and community improve the sustainability of their buildings.