Construction sector can do more to curb carbon emissions — UN report

Energy use in buildings accounts for one-third of greenhouse gas emissions, but the huge potential of the construction sector to combat climate change has not been realized, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
A new report by the agency says that only 10 out of some 4000 projects in the pipeline of the UN-sponsored Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) – which finances initiatives that help slash emissions — are designed to curb the use of energy in buildings.
The UN News Centre notes that dozens of surveys conducted worldwide show that up to 30 per cent reduction in emissions from residential and commercial buildings can be achieved by 2030 at a net negative cost.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), co-recipient of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, has warned that building-related emissions could nearly double from almost nine billion tons in 2004 to nearly 16 billion in 2030.
The surge will be driven in large part by construction booms in the next two decades in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.
“Report after report is now underlining the huge, cost-effective savings possible from addressing emissions from existing buildings alongside designing new ones that include passive and active solar up to low-energy heating and cooling systems and energy-efficient systems,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.
Currently, nearly 200 nations are meeting in Poznan, Poland, for the latest round of UN climate change talks aimed at reaching agreement on a successor pact to the Kyoto Protocol, whose first commitment period ends in 2012.
The new study notes that today’s commercially available technologies allow for energy consumption to be halved in both new and old buildings relatively cheaply through measures such as improved ventilation and insulation, stepped up use of natural lighting and the use of solar and other natural heat sources.
The sector remains virtually untapped because six years after the start of the CDM, very few building projects have managed to enter its pipeline because nearly half of all proposals were rejected during the registration phase.
The report — entitled “The Kyoto Protocol, the Clean Development Mechanism, and the Building and Construction Sector” – cites high administrative costs and weak financial incentives as being among the barriers for approval by the CDM.
For example, eight projects proposed by a Brazilian supermarket chain were rejected because of difficulties in accounting for the projected 20 000 tons of annual carbon savings. Only $3000 of carbon revenue would be generated by the store, which is less than the basic operating costs for the projects and would not cover the energy-efficient equipment necessary.
In a related development, UNEP announced today in Poznan that the Pacific Island nation of Niue, the United Kingdom city of Slough and the New Zealand city of Waitakere are among the latest to sign on to its Climate Neutral Network (CN Net).
That initiative brings together countries, cities, businesses and organizations which pledge to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“For many small island developing States like Niue climate neutrality is more than just a concept — it is a matter of survival,” Steiner said of the nation, with a population of some 1700, releases approximately 0.003 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.
Slough, home to nearly 120 000 people and situated between London and Bath, is seeking to have all public transport and council vehicle run on cleaner fuel and slash its emissions by one-fifth in the coming two decades.
Waitakere, the fifth largest city in New Zealand, is aiming to stabilize per capita emissions by 2010 and reduce them 80% by 2051.
In addition, 11 companies and organizations signed on to CN Net in Poznan Friday today, joining the four countries, four cities and dozens of other participants in the initiative.