News Article
September 23, 2019

RELEASE: Zero Carbon Buildings for All Initiative Launched at UN Climate Action Summit

Photo by Franck Michel/Flickr

NEW YORK (September 23, 2019) — All buildings must be net zero carbon by 2050 to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, but fewer than 1% of buildings are today. Closing this gap will require dramatically enhanced ambition and execution of more efficient buildings and renewable energy supply. Zero Carbon Buildings for All, a multi-partner global initiative endorsed by the UN Secretary General, was featured at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit today.

“When it comes to climate change, we need to shift from ‘doing better’ to ‘doing enough,’” said Andrew Steer, President and CEO of World Resources Institute. “This requires reducing emissions to net zero by 2050. Decarbonizing buildings is absolutely essential to attaining that.”

Buildings operations account for 28% of energy-related CO2 emissions, making them among the largest contributors to climate change. The good news is that improving buildings is also one of the most proven, cost-effective climate mitigation solutions available. Improved buildings often feature the latest in architectural design and enhance the quality of life, health and productivity of people living and working in them.

Zero Carbon Buildings for All will leverage the leadership of government, industry and civil society to both secure commitments to ambitious targets (national policy roadmaps to decarbonize new buildings by 2030 and existing buildings by 2050) and mobilize significant funding (at least $1 trillion in Paris Agreement-compliant buildings investment in developing countries by 2030).

The national governments announcing their commitment to Zero Carbon Buildings for All include an impressive cross-section of developing and industrialized countries: Kenya, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom.

An analysis found that if Zero Carbon Buildings for All were to succeed in just 10 economically and politically diverse countries, avoided emissions by 2030 would be 432 million tons CO2e annually – equivalent to 5% of today's global energy-related emissions. “Strong policies for building energy efficiency can help significantly lower energy use and reduce the cost of carbon mitigation, making it easier to achieve global carbon stabilization,” said Sha Yu, Earth Scientist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

This joint initiative represents a step change in the ambition of policymakers, advocates and the private sector, and will unite leaders across sectors in a strong international coalition to decarbonize the building sector and meet climate goals.

Financial institution supporters include African Development Bank, International Finance Corporation, Investment Fund for Developing Countries (Denmark), European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, European Investment Bank, and others.

Private sector leaders have also stepped up to offer technical expertise, including world-class building design firms like Gensler and BuroHappold, and building technologies firms like ROCKWOOL Group and Saint-Gobain, among others.

Civil society partners include the GABC, Global Environment Facility, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Program for Energy Efficiency in Buildings, Urban Land Institute, World Economic Forum, World Green Building Council, World Resources Institute, and others.

These commitments join those galvanized by complementary efforts like the World Green Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings commitment and the Global Alliance for Building and Construction’s Global Call.


“Kenya is committed to joining the Zero Carbon Buildings for All initiative with a view of implementing sustainable affordable housing programs and urban regeneration as part of our country’s Big 4 Agenda through integration of green building practices in the policies, regulations and standards at National and Subnational Levels,” said James Wainaina Macharia E.G.H., Cabinet Secretary of Kenya’s Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure, Housing, Urban Development and Public Works.

“From long-standing programs on building energy efficiency, we know what is needed to address the emissions of this sector,” said Naoko Ishii, CEO and Chairperson of the Global Environment Facility. “The dual approach of the Zero Carbon Buildings for All initiative — to create ambitious national targets and mobilize funding to meet them — will accelerate progress towards the Paris climate goals. The GEF will help kick-start this new initiative with targeted financing to support developing countries in their buildings decarbonization efforts.”

“Zero Carbon Buildings for All is exactly the kind of bold and forward-thinking initiative the international building community needs to address climate change, and we’re proud to support this mission,” said Mike Seyle, President of BuroHappold U.S. “Since BuroHappold’s inception, protecting and enhancing the environment for future generations has been at the core of our work and ethos, and we believe there is tremendous opportunity to develop coherent net zero carbon strategies that meet sustainability objectives while creating comfortable, productive, and effective environments that enhance people’s lives.”

"Zero carbon buildings are at the heart of the solution set for the world to achieve the climate goals set at the Paris Accord," said Diane Hoskins, Co-CEO of Gensler. "Knowing that immediate action is required, at Gensler, we are fast-tracking our goals and taking immediate aggressive steps for all our work to become completely carbon neutral over the next decade. We very much look forward to delivering Zero Carbon Buildings for All."

“Zero Carbon Buildings for All is an imperative to reach the Paris Agreement objectives and generates social and economic benefits,” said Martina Otto, Head of Secretariat of the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction. “The expected doubling of the building stock by 2050, outpaces current energy efficiency improvement rates, but also provides an opportunity to redirect our investments to future-proof our buildings. Founded at COP21 as the global platform that gathers governments, private sector, civil society organizations and key buildings initiatives, we work with our over 120 members to go further faster together in the needed transformation to a zero-emission, efficient and resilient buildings and construction sector.”

“IFC acknowledges the importance of zero carbon buildings to address climate change,” said Alzbeta Klein, Director and Global Head, Climate Business, at the International Finance Corporation. “IFC has invested more than $4.5 billion in green buildings to date and developed an in-house certification system for green buildings called EDGE (Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies). In line with our support for Zero Carbon Buildings for All, in September the EDGE program enabled Zero Carbon certification to accelerate market creation toward the pathway of limiting the global warming below 2 degrees centigrade.”

“We will not solve the climate crisis if we do not tackle the building sector,” said Christiana Hageneder, from the Program for Energy Efficient Buildings (PEEB). “Energy-efficient buildings are gaining ground worldwide—now we need to get to scale. The leadership of the nations committing to Zero Carbon Buildings for All will help us do that.” PEEB is a partnership program between Agence Francaise de Développement (AFD), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and Agence de l‘Environnement et de la Maitrise de l‘Energie (ADEME) financed by AFD, The German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conversation and Nuclear Safety (BMU), the French Ministère de la Transition Ecologique et Solidaire (MTES) and the Fonds Français pour l’Environnement Mondial (FFEM). 

“Climate change is one of the most significant threats facing our planet today. Reducing worldwide energy consumption, and using renewable energy to meet the remaining demand, are both vital in the fight against climate change,” said Mirella Vitale, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Communication & Public Affairs of ROCKWOOL Group. “Since the cleanest energy source possible is the one that is not used in the first place, reducing energy consumption should be society’s primary priority. In terms of energy consumption in buildings, it’s the most cost-effective approach as well. We hope that through collaboration with cities and others we can make the world’s urban environments more energy efficient, resilient and livable, and our homes and buildings safer and healthier.”

“The contribution of buildings to the global greenhouse gas emissions is very significant,” said Pierre-Andre de Chalendar, Chairman and CEO of Saint-Gobain. “It is of crucial importance to bring the built environment into a low carbon roadmap. This will be achieved first of all through highly energy efficient buildings, both for new built and existing buildings. It is also through a complete rethinking of the design of the buildings, based on low carbon solutions, as for example lightweight solutions can provide. I believe that the Zero Carbon Buildings for All initiative will be a key milestone towards achieving a decarbonized built environment by mid-century.”

“The real estate industry has a key role to play in working with all levels of government to implement strategies that better protect both the built and natural environment,” said Billy Grayson, Executive Director of the Urban Land Institute’s Center for Sustainability and Economic Performance. “ULI is at the forefront of this issue with our Greenprint Center for Building Performance, whose members are addressing climate change through a shared commitment to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Working with our members, we are helping them identify cost-effective strategies to achieve net zero carbon over time, for new buildings, existing buildings, and their overall real estate portfolio.”

“Zero Carbon Buildings for All will catalyze the alignment of efficiency, renewables and offsets to help meet climate goals” said Kristen Panerali, Head of the Electricity Industry at the World Economic Forum. “Systemic Efficiency – maximizing effectiveness and efficiencies at the intersection of energy, buildings and transport – is a critical enabler of the energy transition.”

“The World Green Building Council's global network vision is to transform the built environment, make it healthier and more sustainable,” said Cristina Gamboa, CEO of the World Green Building Council. “This requires eliminating both operational and embodied carbon emissions by 2050. We are delighted to be a partner in the Zero Carbon Buildings for All initiative, as an extension of the foundations laid by the work of our 70 Green Building Councils driving this market transformation. The buildings and construction sector can act and must respond to the climate emergency.”  


About World Resources Institute
WRI is a global research organization that spans more than 60 countries, with international offices in Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico and the United States, regional offices in Ethiopia (for Africa) and the Netherlands (for Europe), and program offices in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Turkey and the United Kingdom. Our more than 1,000 experts and staff turn big ideas into action at the nexus of environment, economic opportunity and human well-being. More information at

About WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities

WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities helps create accessible, equitable, healthy and resilient urban areas for people, businesses and the environment to thrive. Together with partners, it enables more connected, compact and coordinated cities. The Center expands the transport and urban development expertise of the EMBARQ network to catalyze innovative solutions in other sectors, including water, buildings, land use and energy. It combines the research excellence of WRI with 15 years of on-the-ground impact through a network of more than 250 experts working from Brazil, China, Ethiopia, India, Mexico and Turkey to make cities around the world better places to live. More information at

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