This week UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a report which has literally set the ball rolling to act on global warming without any further delay. The report has warned that there are only 12 years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.50C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.
The report highlights a number of climate change impacts that could be avoided by limiting global warming to 1.5∫C compared to 2∫C, or more. For instance, by 2100, global sea level rise would be 10 cm lower with global warming of 1.5∞C compared with 2∞C. The likelihood of an Arctic Ocean free of sea ice in summer would be once per century with global warming of 1.5∞C, compared with at least once per decade with 2∞C. Coral reefs would decline by 70-90 percent with global warming of 1.5∞C, whereas virtually all (> 99 percent) would be lost with 2∫C. Thus, every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5∫C or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems.
This target is tough to achieve but not impossible one. It needs the cooperation from everyone – both government and non-governmental agencies. Building sector being one of largest contributors to the global warming has a special responsibility to discharge and should lead from the front to contain the damage. At the same time, it is also necessary that to realise the full potential of this climate action and to ensure they bring about genuine change, governments and others must be held accountable for the changes our planet so desperately needs.
The WorldGBC’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment, which was launched on 13 September during the Building Up to Net Zero Carbon Emissions session with 38 founding signatories is a welcome and timely move. However, much will depend upon how the follow up actions will be taken to achieve the targets.
At present, buildings are responsible for 39 per cent of global carbon emissions. And the target is to bring this down to zero per cent by 2050. Indeed, it is an uphill task but we have no other option but to achieve the same. Other option is, if at all you call it an option, is to live with calamities like, floods, droughts, etc. and diseases associated with them.
However, there seems to be some problem on technology front. Due to lack of enough technological advancement and infrastructure most of the developers currently take net-zero to account exclusively for operational emissions. Currently our focus is on decarbonisation on cost savings from operational efficiencies, rather than the benefits of a net-zero lifecycle. So, there is a need to change our approach as well as perhaps our mindset too. It should be noted that only a small proportion of the world’s building stock is currently operating at a carbon-neutral level.
So, to make the net-zero approach a reality, we need to save, manage and secure our energy for which again we need to make sure that we can design, build and maintain the buildings which we have developed. The capability to secure long-term energy efficiency is not only in the design solution but also in the capacity to build correctly and to maintain a set level of performance.
The government on its part is also needed to take care of creating congenial policy environment for achieving the target. Also, there is need to think on the lines of providing low-cost loans and tax incentives to encourage retrofits of low-carbon technologies which in turn will bring down upfront costs. At the same time, the government should move to make 100% of its building stock net-zero in order to lead by example. By doing so, the government can show its seriousness in tackling the problem and also show the people that the targets are achievable.