Huge climate payoff from energy efficient buldings

Posted: 30 March 2007

Europe could reduce its energy consumption by more than a fifth and save up to 45 million tonnes of CO2 per year by 2010 by applying more ambitious standards to new and existing buildings, says a new UN report.

The right mix of government regulation, greater use of energy saving technologies and change in behaviour, can substantially reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the building sector which accounts for 30-40 per cent of global energy use, it says.

The report, Buildings and Climate Change, by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)says many opportunities exist for governments, industry and consumers to take appropriate actions during the life span of buildings that will help mitigate the impacts of global warming.

Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, said:" Energy efficiency, along with cleaner and renewable forms of energy generation, is one of the pillars upon which a de-carbonized world will stand or fall. The savings that can be made right now are potentially huge and the costs to implement them relatively low if sufficient numbers of governments, industries, businesses and consumers act".

By some conservative estimates, he said, the building sector alone could deliver emission reductions of 1.8 billion tonnes of C02 around the world. "A more aggressive energy efficiency policy might deliver over two billion tonnes or close to three times the amount scheduled to be reduced under the Kyoto Protocol," he added.

Light bulbs

"There is more low hanging fruit to be harvested. Several countries, including Australia, Cuba and the European Union are looking to phase out or ban the traditional incandescent light bulb that has been around forwell over a century in various forms. The International Energy Agency estimates that a total global switch to compact fluorescent bulbs would, in 2010 deliver C02 savings of 470 million tonnes or slightly over half of theKyoto reductions.

"We have to ask what the hurdles are - if any - to achieving such positive low cost change and set about decisively and swiftly to overcome them, if they exist at all," said Mr Steiner.

Thh report points out that in the lifetime of an average building most energy is consumed, not for construction, but while the building is in use - for heating, cooling, lighting, cooking, ventilation and so on.

This calls for greater use of existing technologies like thermal insulation, solar shading and more efficient lighting and electrical appliances, as well as educational and awareness campaigns. Typically, it says, more than 80 per cent of the total energy consumption takes place during the use of buildings, and less than 20 per cent during construction.

Along with simple energy saving technologies, the report stresses the importance of appropriate government policies on building codes, energy pricing and financial incentives that encourage reductions in energy consumption, and the co-operation of all those involved in the building sector.

In developed countries the main challenge is to achieve emission reduction among mostly existing buildings, and this can largely be done byreducing the use of energy.

In other parts of the world, especially places like China where almost 2 billion square metres of new building space is added every year,the challenge is to leapfrog directly to more energy efficient building solutions, the report says.

The Buildings and Climate Change report will be presented to the annual general meeting of the Sustainable Construction and BuildingInitiative (SBCI), in Rabat, Morocco,from 2 to 4 April 2007. The SBCI is an international partnership set up a year ago to to "green" the multi-billion dollar building and construction sector. It is hosted by UNEP.

Copies of the UNEP/SBCI report can be downloaded from www.unep.org