While building construction and operations are among the largest contributors to climate change, accounting for nearly 40% of energy-related CO2 emissions globally, they also remain the most cost-effective climate mitigation solution available. Every $1 invested in efficiency saves $2 in new electricity generation and distribution costs. As the latest IPCC report reminded us, building decarbonization must be a crucial pillar of global efforts to reduce emissions – and we have no time to lose.
Cities and subnational governments can be critical drivers of building decarbonization. In 2022, six new subnational governments have committed to decarbonize the built environment by joining WRI’s Zero Carbon Building Accelerator (ZCBA), funded by the Global Environment Facility and supported by the UN Environment Programme. Since 2021, the ZCBA has been working in Colombia and Turkey to create national roadmaps and align city action plans for building decarbonization. Now, the ZCBA will help develop local-level action plans in Costa Rica, India and Kenya that outline the steps to reach building decarbonization by 2050 and simultaneously deliver on co-benefits like improved air quality and green jobs. The ZCBA’s action plans will align with existing national and local climate goals and be tailored for the specific context of each subnational government.
The new ZCBA member cities and governments in India, Kenya and Costa Rica will define their own goals, analyze the gaps in their current situation and identify the unique actions needed to curb emissions and improve quality of life for residents through whole lifecycle building decarbonization. Establishing short-, medium- and long-term actions and developing local pilot projects as a part of the ZCBA will support these new governments in accelerating market transformation and the transition to a healthier, greener built environment.
India – Nagpur
Nagpur is the largest city in central India, already home to 2.5 million people and still rapidly growing. Supported by local partners ICLEI South Asia, the city joined the Building Efficiency Accelerator in 2018 and received deep-dive support in 2019 for energy benchmarking and audits to identify potential energy savings in existing public and private buildings, as well as for the development of locally tailored low-carbon building design recommendations and guidelines for municipal affordable housing.
After performing a citywide greenhouse gas emissions inventory, Nagpur found that its buildings sector, comprising of residential, commercial and public buildings, is still a major energy consumer and driver of city’s carbon emissions. Recently committing to the Race to Zero, the city will need to transform its building sector to achieve its climate goals. Nagpur plans to identify the actions it needs to enable deep carbon reduction in its buildings through alignment with national and subnational policies and building codes like ECO-Niwas Samhita (the energy conservation building code for residential buildings) and through the promotion of efficiency and decarbonization at every stage of the building lifecycle.
Kenya – Laikipia County
In 2019, the Kenya Green Building Society (KGBS) led the development of local green building guidelines and the incorporation of these guidelines into Nairobi’s building approval process as part of the Building Efficiency Accelerator. Laikipia County has proven to be a climate leader through commitments like the Under2 Coalition, in which members commit to keep global temperature rise well below 2°C with efforts to reach 1.5°C, and actions like Regenerative Agroforestry; Laikipia County has developed a model farm and school to promote sustainable, climate-resilient production systems that regenerate land through the use of trees and climate-smart agriculture. Laikipia County will now join the ZCBA to build on KGBS’ existing work in the country.
In 2021, Kenya committed to decarbonization and is on course to achieving a full transition to clean energy by 2030. The role of the built environment has already been outlined in the Kenya National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy, but counties – who develop and implement the building codes – still need assistance in turning these national ambitions into on-the-ground realities. With support from WRI and KGBS, Laikipia County will work to implement the actions needed to meet these building decarbonization goals.
Costa Rica – Belén, Curridabat, Moravia and Santa Ana
In 2018, as a part of the Building Efficiency Accelerator, Green Building Council Costa Rica led the formation of the Costa Rica City Cluster, a working group for city leaders from Belén, Curridabat, Moravia and Santa Ana to work together to address barriers and implement strategies for improving building efficiency.
Each city has unique challenges and is at a different stage of implementation. Curridabat is revising its city master plan to include a municipal efficiency code. Belén, a city with a strong commercial industrial sector, is updating its bylaws for construction permits. Santa Ana is focusing on incorporating green building criteria and technical environmental requirements into its construction regulations. And Moravia is beginning to implement sustainable building strategies in its main Municipal Government Building. The diverse goals and experiences of this city cluster allow the cities to be a resource to one another as they advance their initiatives and provide examples for other cities looking to do this work no matter their size or scope.
The national government in Costa Rica has several ambitious climate policies in place, such as the National Decarbonization Plan, which the municipalities are not currently equipped to implement. As part of the Zero Carbon Building Accelerator, the Costa Rica city cluster of Belén, Curridabat, Moravia and Santa Ana will align their local action plans with national policies to identify transformative actions and the first steps needed for local implementation.
Through their participation in the ZCBA, these cities and subnational governments across India, Kenya and Costa Rica will work closely with local implementing partners, WRI technical experts and the wider ZCBA network – including Konya and Gaziantep in Turkey and Bogotá and Calí in Colombia – to exchange knowledge and best practices. This collaborative effort will help them drive policy change and support pilot projects that facilitate building decarbonization and a built environment that is just, healthy and sustainable.
Kayla Rakes is the Engagement Coordinator for the Buildings Initiative at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.