In August, London joined 18 other cities, including Paris, New York, Sydney and Tokyo, representing a total of 130 million citizens, in pledging to ensure that new buildings operate at net zero carbon by 2030

Buildings are a major source of greenhouse gases, typically accounting for more than half of a city’s emissions. In London, Los Angeles and Paris, the figure is well over 70%.

In 2012, according to the UN Committee on Climate Change, greenhouse gas emissions from buildings made up more than a third – 37% – of the total for the whole of the UK.

Tackling this output, therefore, presents a huge opportunity for significantly cutting overall emissions.

The Net Zero Carbon Building Declaration was drawn up by the C40 Cities group, a network of 96 urban centres dedicated to taking bold action on climate issues.

In addition to committing signatories to ensuring new buildings are net zero carbon by 2030, it includes a pledge that all buildings in a city, old or new, will meet net zero carbon standards by 2050.

C40 Cities said “bold commitments” such as net zero carbon buildings are essential steps in delivering the highest goals of the Paris Agreement and keeping global temperature rises below 1.5℃.

Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris and chair of C40, said: “As mayors of the world’s greatest cities, we recognise our responsibility to enable every building, whether historic of brand new, helps deliver a sustainable future for our citizens.

“With this commitment, cities are getting the job done, concretely delivering on the Paris Agreement and building better cities for generations to come. One more time, the future is taking place in cities.”

The C40 Cities pledge is part of the World Green Building Council’s (WorldGBC) Net Zero Carbon Building Commitment for Businesses, Cities, States & Regions, which calls for “urgent, courageous and immediate action towards decarbonising the built environment”.

The WorldGBC defines a net zero carbon building as any building that is highly energy efficient and fully powered from on-site and/or offsite renewable energy sources.

But delivering on the declaration will require a united effort, as mayors do not have direct control of the buildings in their city.

The C40 Cities commitment includes a pledge to work with state and regional governments, as well as the private sector, to drive the move towards net zero carbon, and calls on national governments to make the same moves.

Specifically, cities signing up to the declaration will:

  • Establish a roadmap for reaching the net zero carbon commitment.
  • Develop a suite of supporting incentives and programmes.
  • Provide annual reports on their progress.
  • Evaluate the feasibility of reporting on emissions beyond operational carbon, such as refrigerants.

Thirteen cities, including Paris, Toronto, Johannesburg, Stockholm and Sydney, have made a further commitment to owning, occupying and developing only buildings that are net zero carbon by 2030.

To achieve this, they will:

  • Evaluate current energy demand and carbon emissions from their municipal buildings and identify opportunities for reduction.
  • Establish a roadmap for their commitment to achieve net zero carbon municipal buildings.
  • Report annually on progress towards meeting their targets and evaluate the feasibility of including emissions beyond operational carbon.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “My strategy to improve London’s environment includes some of the world’s most ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions from our homes and workplaces. This includes expanding my existing standard of zero carbon new homes to apply to all new buildings in 2019.

“We want to make London a zero carbon city by 2050 and we’re working hard to ensure its buildings are energy efficient and supplied with clean energy sources. I look forward to collaborating with other cities on our shared vision of achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement.”

C40 Cities announced the signing of the Net Zero Carbon Building Declaration ahead of the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco.

At the summit, research published by C40 Cities, the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy and the New Climate Institute forecast that accelerating efforts towards meeting the Paris Agreement through urban climate policies could prevent approximately 1.3m premature deaths every year around the world by 2030.

In addition, actions such as investing in energy efficient retrofits of residential buildings, improving and extending bus networks and introducing district-scale renewable energy for heating and cooling in buildings would create a net 13.7m jobs in cities and save 40bn hours of commuters’ time, while reducing household expenses by billions of dollars worldwide.

Separate research showed that 27 of the C40 Cities, including London, Berlin, Toronto and Washington DC, have seen their greenhouse gas emissions fall over a five-year period, achieving at least a 10% reduction from their peak, while their populations and economies have grown.

Scientists have calculated that global greenhouse gas emissions need to peak by 2020 at the latest and then come down steeply in order to achieve the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global temperature increases to 1.5℃.

C40 Cities said worldwide greenhouse gas emissions are still rising, which is why it is vitally important for the world’s greatest cities to buck the trend and show that a low carbon world is possible.

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