By BEN EVANS, U.S. Green Building Council, in Dubai
More than two dozen countries, including the United States, joined the Buildings Breakthrough partnership launched Wednesday at COP 28, committing to the vision that resilient buildings with near zero emissions will be the “new normal” by 2030.
At a recorded launch event in Dubai, global leaders said that the campaign, which is led by France and Morocco, underscored the increased attention that the buildings sector is receiving in international talks at the COP 28 climate summit.
“The goal is really simple: net zero and resilient buildings by 2030,” said Inger Andersen, undersecretary-general of the United Nations and executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, which is coordinating the program. “We have fire codes in every country for how we construct our buildings. Why, oh why, do we not have efficiency and net zero codes?”
Representing the U.S. at the event, National Climate Adviser Ali Zaidi said upgrading buildings is “not just an opportunity to cut our emissions, but really to improve quality of life—indoor air quality, lower energy bills. This is the opportunity to we have to deliver for our citizens.”
At its core, Buildings Breakthrough is a pledge from countries to establish net zero and resilience targets for buildings while also taking concrete actions to reach the targets. The initiative covers both new construction and major renovation projects. It defines near zero–emissions buildings as highly energy-efficient and with a low-carbon footprint when accounting for full life cycle emissions, including construction materials. Resilient buildings are defined as structures that are designed, built and operated to address future climate conditions.
Among the supporting initiatives of Buildings Breakthrough is the International Code Council’s Building Capacity for Sustainable and Resilient Buildings program. That calls for government signatories to commit to adopting building energy codes that align with global climate goals and new construction buildings with zero emissions by 2030. USGBC has joined the ICC initiative as a partner organization, meaning it will assist governments in meeting targets under the program.
“In the United States, the [priority] has been a focus on building codes,” Zaidi said, highlighting the more than $1 billion in the Inflation Reduction Act to help states and local governments adopt and implement updated codes. “When we think about buildings codes, we think about mitigation and resilience, about new buildings and existing ones.”
The Biden administration already has taken a number of actions to align with the Buildings Breakthrough goal, including outlining a proposed federal definition for a zero-emissions building that calls for such buildings to be highly energy-efficient, free of on-site emissions and powered solely from clean energy.
President Biden also issued Executive Order 14057, a broad sustainability plan for federal buildings and operations that includes a host of "buy clean" provisions and a goal for all federal buildings to have net zero emissions by 2045 (and a 50% emissions reduction from buildings by 2032).
Ben Evans is federal legislative director at the U.S. Green Building Council, helping lead the council’s advocacy work in Washington promoting green buildings and sustainable communities. A native of Memphis, TN, he has a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the College of Charleston.