12/08/2023 | by

At the COP28 annual global climate conference in Dubai this week, the United States was one of 28 countries that pledged its commitment to the Buildings Breakthrough. Coordinated with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and UNEP-hosted Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (GlobalABC), the Buildings Breakthrough aims to accelerate the transformation of the sector by making near-zero emissions and climate-resilient buildings the new normal by 2030.

The initiative will focus on the formal and semi-formal adoption of “near-zero emissions” and “resilience” concepts in the engineering of both new buildings and deep renovations of existing buildings. The term “near-zero emission building” will be defined as a highly energy-efficient building with a low carbon footprint that considers the whole building's life cycle. This means a “near-zero emission building” will use low GHG energy sources and be built with low GHG building materials and equipment. The initiative also includes “resilient buildings,” which integrate specifications related to the future climate in their design, construction, and operation maintenance.

This new Buildings Breakthrough is part of the broader Breakthrough Agenda that was launched at COP26 in 2021 by 45 world leaders whose governments collectively represent more than 70% of global GDP, to strengthen international collaboration on decarbonizing high-emission sectors (including transport, power, hydrogen, steel, and agriculture). In 2022, it was announced that France and the Kingdom of Morocco would co-lead an effort to develop a Buildings Breakthrough Target with the support of other willing governments.

“Business, industry, and city leaders are already taking action to unlock the climate solutions of the buildings sector,” said Razan Al Mubarak, UN Climate Change High-Level Champion for COP28. “We welcome this strong commitment from governments [that] will provide the enabling environment to accelerate the sector’s sustainable transformation for everyone, everywhere.”

Watch the recording of the COP28 official launch event, which took place on Dec. 6 and included H.E. Ali Zaidi, assistant to the president and the U.S. national climate advisor (see the 39-minute mark).

In his remarks, Zaidi emphasized the opportunity to make a “visible difference in people's lives by improving buildings, not only by reducing emissions but by improving air quality.” He highlighted that electricity-based heating is outpacing fossil-fuel-based heating systems in new construction buildings for the first time. He points out that the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) provides tax credits to incentivize the deployment of these low-carbon energy systems, but also expands the manufacturing and production of heat pump equipment. These systems can support the transformation of buildings globally. He also discussed the importance of targeted support for installing on-site clean energy systems so the industry can focus on “generating electrons closer to where the load is.”

The 28 countries pledged to the Buildings Breakthrough collectively represent around 34% of the global population, account for about 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and contribute approximately 64% of the global GDP. The European Commission and 18 international initiatives, including the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) and the World Resources Institute (WRI) Zero Carbon Building Accelerator and Building Efficiency Accelerator, have also announced their support.

In furtherance of the mission of the Building Breakthrough, the first-ever Buildings and Climate Global Forum will be held on March 7-8, 2024 in Paris, France. This forum will bring together global leaders and stakeholders across the building sector value chain, including local authorities, NGOs, and businesses.

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