COP26 Communique on Decarbonizing Buildings

Building Industry Leaders to World Governments: It’s Time to Lead on Climate! Leading building industry groups commit to 1.5°C Paris Agreement target, and challenge governments to do the same.

“More than 60 of the largest and most influential international architecture, landscape architecture, engineering, planning, and construction firms, collectively responsible for over $300 billion in annual construction, along with two dozen organizations representing over one million building industry professionals worldwide, issued a Communiqué to government leaders headed to the #unitednations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP 26) challenging them to step up their #emissionsreduction targets for the #builtenvironment. The firms and organizations are signatories of the 1.5°C #cop26glasgow Communiqué — an open letter to sovereign governments demonstrating the firms’ and organizations’ commitment to meet the #parisagreement’s 1.5°C carbon budget and demanding governments do the same.”


Thank you Andrew this is certainly a timely initiative from Edward Mazria and Architecture2030.
But I am at a loss to make sense of this statement:
“… in the United States, the building sector has not increased its energy consumption since 2005, even though the U.S. has added more than 50 billion square feet of buildings during that time.”
In ‘Bringing Embodied Carbon Upfront’, the World Green Building Council highlights that most carbon can be saved by building less (80%) - such as by retrofit and adaptation - or not building at all (100%).
As mentioned at recent CLF Vancouver event re Circular Economy, we cannot continue to add one New York City to the planet every 34 days (especially in wealthier societies) and still claim to be able to ‘decarbonize’.

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Renovation and building and infrastructure reuse/adaptation should always be the first option. What the US data tells us is that since 2005, our new construction has slowed down a bit with new buildings becoming more efficient (operations), and renovation has probably picked up with renovated buildings also operating much more efficiently and more than offsetting any additional energy consumption from new buildings operations. With COVID, I expect this trend to dramatically increase – less new buildings (but more efficient and incorporating onsite renewables) and more adaptive reuse and renovation (also more efficient and incorporating onsite renewables).

Thank you @mazria for encouraging remarks.
I consulted ‘A US Success Story’, the source of your statement about 50 billion sq feet not increasing energy consumption. It seems based on building operations, excluding embodied energy.
The RIBA recently released ‘Built for the Environment’, where it calls for the focus to shift onto reducing absolute emissions, not reductions per square meter of building area, which must involve building less, much less.
RIBA also states (p. 14) “rapid increases in floor area and demand for energy-consuming equipment and services are contributing to the growth of carbon emissions, outpacing emissions reductions gained from efficiency improvements…”.
The topic of building less was also raised on 9 Sept at CLF Vancouver event on Circular Design. Link to my own talk: Circular Design in the Built Environment | David Ness (UniSA STEM) - YouTube
Furthermore, EU is introducing carbon budgets based on top-down allocations for countries & sectors. These are likely to dramatically reduce new construction and advantage retrofit/adaptation, in EU and beyond.
Hope we can continue this important conversation and that other CLF members may join in too.

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Am I the only one who is frustrated with all these Architecture Firms signing this commitment… yet hardly any (if any) of them actually perform LCAs for their designs?

How do you agree to a climate challenge about limiting GHG emissions if you do not even measure it?

It is a great idea, maybe I am too cynical at the moment.


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With respect, I believe the COP26 Communique misses an important point.
We cannot continue to build new at the current rate of one NY City every 34 days.
It is time the Property Industry realised it needs to plan for building less, much less.
To reach 1.5 degree target, increased energy efficiency and use of renewables are insufficient. As IPCC lead author Dr Yamina Saheb explains in this short, readable article, sufficiency (consuming less in absolute terms) should be first. COP26: Sufficiency Should be First - Commentaries


Thank-you David, I couldn’t agree more. The astonishing new build forecast seems to be rooted in the desires of the property industry, rather than any assessment of needs and limits of material supply and of course emissions. My worry is that these sorts of forecasts tend to be self-fulfilling - what we really need is a vision for a future like Dr Saheb lays out.

Does anybody know what the building forecast numbers are based on?

Thanks @will.nash I found some projections in this OECD report (2019),
Especially around page 92

From COP26
How can construction contribute to solving the climate crisis?

more on this topic from The Economist

Before we blindly start building everything in timber we need to ensure it is done sustainably. Logging accounts for ~26% of deforestation annually, considering 15% of global emissions are from deforestation this means that logging is responsible for ~4% of emissions. While still better than steel or concrete, deforestation is a double whammy that decreases the carbon sink (while also driving biodiversity collapse which is a huge risk for humanity).

Overall we need fewer buildings, make the ones we already have last longer, and eventually short rotation agricultural crops waste could be used to sequester carbon in buildings.