IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change


In 2004, emissions from the buildings sector including through electricity use were about 8.6 GtCO2, 0.1 GtCO2-eq N2O, 0.4 GtCO2-eq CH4 and 1.5 GtCO2-eq halocarbons (including CFCs and HCFCs). Using an accounting system that attributes CO2 emissions to electricity supply rather than buildings end-uses, the direct energy-related carbon dioxide emissions of the building sector are about 3 Gt/yr.

For the buildings sector the literature uses a variety of baselines. Therefore a baseline was derived for this sector based on the literature, resulting in emissions between the B2 and A1B SRES scenarios, with 11.1 Gt of emissions of CO2 in 2020 and 14.3 GtCO2 in 2030 (including electricity emissions but omitting halocarbons, which could conceivably be substantially phased out by 2030).

Measures to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from buildings fall into one of three categories: reducing energy consumption and embodied energy in buildings, switching to low-carbon fuels including a higher share of renewable energy, or controlling the emissions of non-CO2 GHG gases.[2] This chapter devotes most attention to improving energy efficiency in new and existing buildings, which encompasses the most diverse, largest and most cost-effective mitigation opportunities in buildings.

The key conclusion of the chapter is that substantial reductions in CO2 emissions from energy use in buildings can be achieved over the coming years using mature technologies for energy efficiency that already exist widely and that have been successfully used (high agreement, much evidence). A significant portion of these savings can be achieved in ways that reduce life-cycle costs, thus providing reductions in CO2 emissions that have a net benefit rather than cost. However, due to the long lifetime of buildings and their equipment, as well as the strong and numerous market barriers prevailing in this sector, many buildings do not apply these basic technologies to the level life-cycle cost minimisation would warrant (high agreement, much evidence).

Our survey of the literature (80 studies) indicates that there is a global potential to reduce approximately 29% of the projected baseline emissions by 2020 cost-effectively in the residential and commercial sectors, the highest among all sectors studied in this report (high agreement, much evidence). Additionally at least 3% of baseline emissions can be avoided at costs up to 20 US$/tCO2 and 4% more if costs up to 100 US$/tCO2 are considered. However, due to the large opportunities at low-costs, the high-cost potential has been assessed to a limited extent, and thus this figure is an underestimate (high agreement, much evidence).

Using the global baseline CO2 emission projections for buildings, these estimates represent a reduction of approximately 3.2, 3.6 and 4.0 GtCO2/yr in 2020, at zero, 20 US$/tCO2 and 100 US$/tCO2 respectively. Our extrapolation of the potentials to the year 2030 suggests that, globally, about 4.5, 5.0 and 5.6 GtCO2 at negative cost, <20 US$ and <100 US$/tCO2-eq respectively, can be reduced (approximately 30, 35 and 40% of the projected baseline emissions) (medium agreement, limited evidence). These numbers are associated with significantly lower levels of certainty than the 2020 ones due to very limited research available for 2030.

While occupant behaviour, culture and consumer choice and use of technologies are also major determinants of energy use in buildings and play a fundamental role in determining CO2 emissions (high agreement, limited evidence), the potential reduction through non-technological options is rarely assessed and the potential leverage of policies over these is poorly understood. Due to the limited number of demand-side end-use efficiency options considered by the studies, the omission of non-technological options and the often significant co-benefits, as well as the exclusion of advanced integrated highly efficiency buildings, the real potential is likely to be higher (high agreement, limited evidence).

There is a broad array of accessible and cost-effective technologies and know-how that have not as yet been widely adopted, which can abate GHG emissions in buildings to a significant extent. These include passive solar design, high-efficiency lighting and appliances[3], highly efficient ventilation and cooling systems, solar water heaters, insulation materials and techniques, high-reflectivity building materials and multiple glazing. The largest savings in energy use (75% or higher) occur for new buildings, through designing and operating buildings as complete systems. Realizing these savings requires an integrated design process involving architects, engineers, contractors and clients, with full consideration of opportunities for passively reducing building energy demands. Over the whole building stock the largest portion of carbon savings by 2030 is in retrofitting existing buildings and replacing energy-using equipment due to the slow turnover of the stock (high agreement, much evidence).

Implementing carbon mitigation options in buildings is associated with a wide range of co-benefits. While financial assessment has been limited, it is estimated that their overall value may be higher than those of the energy savings benefits (medium agreement, limited evidence). Economic co-benefits include the creation of jobs and business opportunities, increased economic competitiveness and energy security. Other co-benefits include social welfare benefits for low-income households, increased access to energy services, improved indoor and outdoor air quality, as well as increased comfort, health and quality of life. In developing countries, safe and high-efficiency cooking devices and high-efficiency electric lighting would not only abate substantial GHG emissions, but would reduce mortality and morbidity due to indoor air pollution by millions of cases worldwide annually (high agreement, medium evidence).

There are, however, substantial market barriers that need to be overcome and a faster pace of well-enforced policies and programmes pursued for energy efficiency and de-carbonisation to achieve the indicated high negative and low-cost mitigation potential. These barriers include high costs of gathering reliable information on energy efficiency measures, lack of proper incentives (e.g., between landlords who would pay for efficiency and tenants who realize the benefits), limitations in access to financing, subsidies on energy prices, as well as the fragmentation of the building industry and the design process into many professions, trades, work stages and industries. These barriers are especially strong and diverse in the residential and commercial sectors; therefore, overcoming them is only possible through a diverse portfolio of policy instruments (high agreement, medium evidence).

Energy efficiency and utilisation of renewable energy in buildings offer a large portfolio of options where synergies between sustainable development and GHG abatement exist. The most relevant of these for the least developed countries are safe and efficient cooking stoves that, while cutting GHG emissions, significantly, reduce mortality and morbidity by reducing indoor air pollution. Such devices also reduce the workload for women and children and decrease the demands placed on scarce natural resources. Reduced energy payments resulting from energy-efficiency and utilisation of building-level renewable energy resources improve social welfare and enhance access to energy services.

A variety of government policies have been demonstrated to be successful in many countries in reducing energy-related CO2 emissions in buildings (high agreement, much evidence). Among these are continuously updated appliance standards and building energy codes and labelling, energy pricing measures and financial incentives, utility demand-side management programmes, public sector energy leadership programmes including procurement policies, education and training initiatives and the promotion of energy service companies. The greatest challenge is the development of effective strategies for retrofitting existing buildings due to their slow turnover. Since climate change literacy, awareness of technological, cultural and behavioural choices are important preconditions to fully operating policies, applying these policy approaches needs to go hand in hand with programmes that increase consumer access to information and awareness and knowledge through education.

To sum up, while buildings offer the largest share of cost-effective opportunities for GHG mitigation among the sectors examined in this report, achieving a lower carbon future will require very significant efforts to enhance programmes and policies for energy efficiency in buildings and low-carbon energy sources well beyond what is happening today.

  1. ^  Fuel switching is largely the province of Chapter 4, energy supply.
  2. ^  By appliances, we mean all electricity-using devices, with the exception of equipment used for heating, cooling and lighting.