Decarbonising the building sector: part 1.


Bashar Al Shawa, Senior Associate

Opportunities and challenges.

This insight was first published on the 19/09/22 for Building

A global pathway

The building sector is responsible for 36% of the world’s final energy consumption and ~37% of global energy-related CO2 emissions. Despite the introduction of various green building standards and building energy codes, the International Energy Agency (IEA) recently described the sector as ‘not-on-track’ to meet its Net Zero by 2050 scenario. However, this does not have to be the case, since approximately 80% of economically-viable measures to improve energy efficiency in buildings remain untapped.

The SBTi’s Buildings Project aims to resolve this by developing new methodologies, tools and target-setting guidance to set a global pathway for all buildings’ emissions to align with 1.5°C — as set out in the Paris Agreement and Glasgow Climate Pact. The project was initiated in 2021 through funding provided by Laudes Foundation — an independent foundation focused on accelerating the transition to a climate-positive and inclusive economy by tackling the most pressing and systemic issues in the built environment – and is expected to run for two years.

Building pathways to decarbonise the building sector

The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) Buildings Project was launched to provide a route for all players in this sector to align their climate mitigation plans with the latest science, taking into account the specific challenges facing this industry.

While there has been a rapid increase in green building standards, the alignment of their requirements with a 1.5°C trajectory – in terms of operational carbon, operational energy or embodied carbon – has not been demonstrated.

What’s more, initiatives aiming to provide an interpretation of the Greenhouse Gas Protocol for the building sector to account for carbon emissions and emissions reduction targets have often addressed only one sector stakeholder out of many that exist – e.g. architects, engineers, project managers, developers, builders, owners or financial institutions.

The SBTi Buildings Project aims to address these limitations through three main objectives:

  1. Develop a 1.5°C-aligned pathway for the global building sector’s in-use emissions – i.e., those associated with operating buildings.
  2. Develop a 1.5°C-aligned pathway for the sector’s embodied emissions – i.e., those associated with construction activities and building materials.
  3. Develop guidance for emissions accounting, reporting and target setting for various sector stakeholders.

To ensure the guidance and resources are robust, clear and practical, the SBTi’s Buildings Project has engaged experts from industry, academia and civil society on various approaches and solutions through regular Expert Advisory Group (EAG) sessions.

The SBTi has partnered with the Carbon Risk Real Estate Monitor (CRREM), an initiative that helps real estate investors and other stakeholders align with the Paris Agreement through providing a set of decarbonisation and energy intensity pathways for the operation of buildings.

The project has a wider stakeholder group of key industry and non-industry representatives that will be invited to provide input through a public consultation phase. The project timeline can be viewed here.