UN process opens the way for building sector

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The world is a step closer to a common carbon metric for buildings, with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) recognising the need for a unified approach to the reporting and measuring of carbon emissions from the global built environment.

At a UNEP Sustainable Buildings & Climate Initiative (UNEP-SBCI) meeting in Shanghai in late October, Gajanana Hegde from the UNFCCC's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) team discussed a recent shift in the UNFCCC's approach which would enable CDMs to fully capitalise on the carbon-reduction potential of buildings.

Chief Executive of the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC), Jane Henley, welcomes this new approach, saying that CDMs have come under scrutiny for their cumbersome approaches.

"In many cases it costs more to comply with the CDM process than the carbon savings are worth, therefore missing the opportunity entirely," Ms Henley says.

"The CDM process was designed to promote projects in developing countries that reduce emissions by transferring financial resources into these countries. To date, it has had a limited impact; we believe a new methodology for measuring and reporting on carbon emissions from buildings will help drive the uptake of CDM projects.

"In most countries, buildings are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. And while the building sector has the greatest potential for delivering emissions cuts, at the least cost, buildings have been largely overlooked in the current international commitments for tackling climate change," Ms Henley says.

Mr Hegde told the UNEP-SBCI meeting that the building industry must define a set of default factors or 'averages' that can be used globally. These would need to consider the appropriate variables such as building types, climate zones and economic conditions that would allow projects to simply reduce carbon emissions below such averages and reap the benefit as tradable carbon credits.

Romilly Madew, Chief Executive of the Green Building Council of Australia and member of the WorldGBC's Policy Taskforce, says this shift in thinking reinforces the importance of the WorldGBC's Common Carbon Metric project, which it is developing in partnership with the UNEP-SBCI and the Sustainable Building Alliance (SBA).

"Currently, the construction industry's participation in CDM projects is restricted, because we cannot demonstrate carbon reductions in a cost-effective way that complies with UNFCCC requirements. A common metric for measuring carbon emissions from buildings will enable the global construction sector to participate in carbon markets and attract investment that may not otherwise have been available, in turn delivering tangible carbon reductions," Ms Madew says.

The WorldGBC expects that rating tools for buildings will also play a role, by providing independent verification of the quality of CDM building projects.

"The Common Carbon Metric project has the potential to act as a real stimulus and support a range of green building projects in developing nations - from large scale retrofit programs through to new building projects. The WorldGBC will continue to work closely with UNFCCC and our partners to drive the global transition to a low-carbon future," Ms Henley concludes.

About the Common Carbon Metric project

The Common Carbon Metric project, being led by the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC), in partnership with the UNEP Sustainable Buildings & Climate Initiative (UNEP-SBCI) and the Sustainable Building Alliance (SBA), has three specific goals:

  • Benchmarking: to provide a consistent reporting framework for both industry and government that work in a local and international context.
  • Baselining: to support consistent reporting of operational carbon footprints from buildings and enable comparisons of buildings across cities and countries, and provide a basis for funding allocations and international agreements.
  • Monetising: to provide a consistent measurement basis for monetisation of carbon trading measures for the building sector, which will in turn stimulate market activity by incentivising energy efficiency.