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UNEP Reports Energy-Efficient Buildings Key to Tackling Climate Change
11/ 12/ 2009

UNEP Reports Energy-Efficient Buildings Key to Tackling Climate ChangeCopenhagen, 11 December 2009 Energy-efficient buildings could significantly contribute to reducing the risks of climate change, said a report released by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) today. The study entitled "Buildings and Climate Change - Summary for Decision Makers" called for buildings to be included in any declaration on emissions reductions coming out of December's COP15 meeting in Copenhagen.

According to the UNEP report, the huge potential of the building sector for combating climate change remains virtually untapped.

"In countries such as China, where new construction over the next ten years will equal the size of all existing buildings in the United States, realizing this potential from the start is imperative for reaching any climate mitigation goals," said Under-Secretary General and UNEP's Executive Director Achim Steiner. "Failure to do so will literally mean that we build ourselves into a high-emissions future, where we will continue wasting large amounts of money and energy on buildings unnecessarily," he added.

The report, produced by UNEP's Sustainable Buildings and Climate Initiative (SBCI), a think tank and partnership between the United Nations and leading companies and organizations in the building sector, presents results from almost three years of research and collaboration with leading experts around the world.

Buildings contribute to well over one third of global energy use and associated greenhouse gas emissions, but also have a huge potential to achieve drastic emission reductions at virtually no cost. For example, landmark structures such as New York City's Empire State Building, at 102 stories and 242,000 square meters, is set to reduce its current emissions by 38 percent by 2013 through a US$20 million retrofit, resulting in annual savings of US$4.4 million.

According to the report, the current climate footprint from buildings is equivalent to 8.6 billion tons of CO2 a year and is predicted to almost double to 15.6 billion tons of CO2 by 2030. In addition, the pressure to develop new buildings - as a result of population growth, urbanization and modernization - will lead to an almost doubling of existing building stock in developing countries by 2050.

The report highlights the opportunity lying within buildings to deliver cuts in greenhouse gas emissions through proven policies, technologies and knowledge that already exist to deliver the cuts needed.

For example, in South Africa the building sector already accounts for 23% of greenhouse gas emissions and investment in new buildings is expected to grow at around 2% per year between 2008 and 2050, resulting in a doubling of total building stock by 2050. If left unchecked, this would result in a twofold increase in greenhouse gas emissions. However, using improved building designs, technologies, and policy instruments, energy efficiency of up to 50% can be obtained in new buildings in the commercial sector, and up to 40% in the residential sector.

The report noted that the building industry is also committed to action and in many countries is already playing a leading role; and significant co-benefits, including employment, will be created by policies that encourage energy efficient and low-emission buildings.

SBCI members' recent Call to Action urges policy makers at the global meeting to support the inclusion of measures in a Copenhagen treaty to enable the sector to harness its emission reduction potential. The call is matched with commitments from the sector to act and react on such policies.

The report summarizes experiences from emission reduction policies for buildings tested in more than 80 countries around the world.

"Imagine what a consistent and internationally supported program could do to modernize the global building stock - new and existing buildings - not only in terms of drastic reductions of emissions, but in terms of improving the living conditions for poor people in all countries, generating new green jobs, and supporting technology transfer and financing," said Mr. Steiner.

The new report is accompanied by the first globally consistent Common Carbon Metric for Buildings which provides a common language for measuring greenhouse gas emissions and energy efficiency of buildings. The Common Metric is a result of SBCI's coordinated cooperation of experts and organizations, including International Energy Agency, International Standardization organization, World Green Building Council, International Initiative for the Sustainable Built Environment and Sustainable Buildings Alliance as well as private sector companies and associations. (

"Until now international cooperation on sustainable buildings, and in particular climate mitigation in the building sector has been hampered by lack of a consistent and verifiable methodology to measure the climate footprint from buildings," explained Stéphane Pouffary, from ADEME (Agence de l'Environnement et de la Maîtrise de l'Energie) and chair for SBCI's Think Tank on Climate Change

"This new metric opens up an entirely new arena for climate negotiators to develop international mechanisms to support the building sector realizing its full emission reduction potential," he added.

The UNEP report and Common Carbon metric are being presented at a side event in Copenhagen today (Friday 11 Dec), organized by UNEP's partners: The Finland-led Marrakech Task Force on Sustainable Buildings and Construction, and UNEP's Finance Initiative, both global efforts working in tandem with SCBI.

The UNEP report encourages policy makers to take action in four key areas:
. Prioritize the building sector as a means of achieving national GHG emission reduction targets;
. Recognise energy efficiency and the GHG emission reduction programmes as a National Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMA);
. Reform the Clean Development Mechanism to support investment in energy efficient building programmes in developing countries;
. Develop base-lines for building-related GHG emissions using a consistent international approach to performance monitoring and reporting.

Launching the new report and the Common Carbon metric system, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner noted: "If targets for greenhouse gas emissions reduction are to be met, decision-makers have to tackle emissions from the building sector. They need to make the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions from buildings a cornerstone of every national climate change strategy."

"Today, UNEP SBCI and partners are providing the evidence needed, along with an invaluable tool for guiding effective decision-making to help reduce building-related greenhouse gas emissions," he added.

The report and Common Carbon Metric system are available to download from

For more information contact:

Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson and Head of Media, on Tel: +254 20 7623084, Mobile: +254 733 632755, or when travelling: +41 795965737, or e-mail:

Note to Editors:

. The report and the Common Carbon Metric will be launched at a special side-event "Construction Counts for Climate" at COP15 on Friday, 11 December, at 13:00 - 15:00 in Room Schuman in the EU Pavilion. The event is hosted by the Ministry of the Environment of Finland and the Marrakech Task Force on SBC, in cooperation with UNEP SBCI, UNEP FI and ADEME.

. The Press Conference on Buildings and Climate Change will take place in Copenhagen on Friday, December 11, from 16:30 - 17:00 in the main Press Conference Room, Hall A.

. The Common Carbon Metric has been developed in partnership with many of the worlds major building performance assessment organizations, including the following SBCI members: the US Green Building Council, the UK's Building Research Establishment, the Sustainable Buildings Alliance, the French Energy Agency ADEME, Centre Scientifique et Technique du Bâtiment (CSTB) and the World Green Building Council. Contributions were also received from the International Energy Agency, the International Initiative for Sustainable Built Environments, UNEP's RISOE Centre for Energy and Climate Change, the Energy & Resources Institute (TERI) India, the Building & Construction Authority of Singapore, the Chinese and Australian Green Building Councils, Carnegie Melon University and the Commonwealth Science & Industry Research Organisation (CSIRO). SBCI would like to thank each of these organizations for their valuable contributions.

. The Common Carbon Metric will help national, regional, and local governments, as well as owners of large portfolios of buildings and even individual building owners, in the following ways:

. Supporting policy-making with data to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, especially in developing countries;

. Providing a framework for measuring emission reductions in buildings, so as to support the formulation of Nationally Approved Mitigation Action (NAMA) plans;

. Establishing a system of measurable, reportable, and verifiable indicators for the follow-up of policy implementation, resulting in emissions reduction and reporting on building-related greenhouse gas emissions;

. Harmonising indicators for assessing the emissions of buildings in the world's major green-building rating schemes.

. The Buildings and Climate Change report and Common Carbon Metric have been compiled by the Sustainable Building and Climate Initiative (SBCI), a UNEP-hosted partnership between the UN and public and private stakeholders in the building sector, which promotes sustainable building practices globally.

. The Marrakech Task Force on Sustainable Buildings and Construction, with Finland as the lead country, stresses the role of the public sector in general, and of policies and political leadership in particular, in mainstreaming sustainable energy use in the building environment. (The seven Marrakech Task Forces, focusing on different aspects of sustainable consumption and production, are a voluntary mechanism, led by governments, to assist in preparing a Ten Year Framework of Programmes (10YFP) on Sustainable Consumption and Production, which will be on the agenda of UN CSD18 and 18)

. The United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) is a global partnership between UNEP and the financial sector. Over 170 institutions, including banks, insurers, fund managers and investors, work with UNEP to understand the impacts of environmental and social considerations on financial performance. The UNEP FI Property Working Group analyses the role of financial institutions in promoting sustainable development in the real estate and property finance sectors, through management strategies that go beyond compliance and aim to protect or enhance financial returns throughout the lifecycle of buildings.

Further Resources
Common Carbon Metric
Construction Counts for Climate
United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative
Sustainable Buildings and Climate Initiative
Marrakech Task Force for Sustainable Building and Construction