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Bonn 2014: We're on our way to zero emissions

International environmental lawyer and climate change policy expert, Farhana Yamin and Ed Mazria, Founder and CEO of Architecture 2030 layout their vision for a carbon emission free world. Watch Mazria’s full presentation here.

Authored by Chris Wright

The negotiations in Bonn took a dramatic shift this week, as countries from around the world came out of the emissions reductions closet and began to announce efforts to move towards Zero Emissions.

In what started as a small, uncertain whisper later became a collective call for a “critical mass” of countries to discuss how they might “de-carbonise” their economies in line with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

At a ministerial roundtable last week, examining mitigation action before 2020, the German Environment Minister, Barbara Hendricks stated that “the Paris Protocol has to take use to a zero-carbon future.”

Her words were echoed by other ministers, including those from the Marshall Islands, Norway, Grenada and Columbia, all of who emphasized the need for a long-term coal of achieving carbon neutrality.

Carbon neutrality – also known as ‘net zero carbon emissions’ or ‘fossil-fuel phase-out’ – is a concept that would see the world produce no emissions, or remove the same amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as its putting into it.

However, for many countries, getting to this point is going to be tough.

In a side event titled Going Net Zero: Experiences and initiatives around the world, mitigation specialist Stefan Raubenheimer highlighted that:

This is not yet a compelling case for many developing countries. If I said to the President of South Africa, lets aim for net 0 by 2030, I would be thrown out of the room.

What needs to occur, Raubenheimer noted, is to “find ways to create a new evidence base to achieve those particular objectives”.  In his own words, we need to “place zero carbon next to a multitude of benefits, including resilience, poverty eradication and efficiency savings”.

As Alejandro Rivera, Mexican Ambassador for climate change highlighted:

Mexico is committed to this issue because we are a very vulnerable country. This idea of net zero emissions is challenging, but if we are to listen to science, we need to consider it.

More than 60% of municipalities in Mexico are defined as highly vulnerable to climate change. But we see this as an opportunity, an opportunity that can bring jobs and help us reach sustainable development.

However, this transition needs to happen soon. As Ed Mazria, Founder and CEO of Architecture 2030 reiterated, “if we are going to have an 85% chance of keeping global warming below 2°C, we need to peak in 2016, and move quickly toward net zero emissions.”

According to Ed, the building sector will be a critical aspect of moving the world towards this goal. “In 2002, no-one in sustainability even knew the building sector existed,” said Ed, but since “Urban environments emit 75% of all emissions in the world today” the building sector will be a key battleground of climate change.

That is why in 2006, Ed founded Architecture 2030 and began to re-shape the narrative over energy efficient buildings. Thanks in part to his efforts, the US is now rapidly moving towards net Zero emissions throughout their building sector, and saving Americans billions of dollars on their energy bills.

We’ve saved the American consumer up to $560 billion already on what they would have been spending on energy.

In addition, the majority of these savings haven’t cost a penny.  After years of working to increase energy efficiency across the US, Ed has come to realize that “you can design out 70 – 80% of the energy a typical building would consume at almost no cost.”

Thomas Boermans from Ecofys zeros in on EU efforts to rapidly cut pollution from the building sector

It is these low cost savings that have caught the eye of lawmakers around the country. President Obama has already issued a number of executive orders to enforce net Zero architecture across all Federal buildings, and the state of California has extended this concept throughout residential buildings as well.

California will not be able to build a new non-net zero residential building in California by 2030.

This has been a key aspect of negotiations this week. As discussions have narrowed in on what to include, and how to encourage countries to submit their Nationally Determined Contributions to reduce global emissions by March 2015, developing nations are seeking clarity on what these benefits might be.

These efforts are also being replicated across the EU. Speaking on behalf of Ecofys, Thomas Boermans noted that “nearly-zero energy building regulations will be in force across all public buildings in 2019 and all residential buildings across the EU by 2021”.

Thomas explains “nearly-zero” as buildings that are “low demand and high efficiency…and this demand should be met with renewable energy.”

However, there are also plans to expand throughout the developing world.  Architecture 2030 have developed a visual guide to urban planning, resilient architectural development and energy efficiency to enable developing countries to follow their example, and design out building emissions.

They have also developed a global road map to get the world’s building sector to net Zero in line with the IPCC’s latest findings. Interestingly, this road map has key principles like equity and CBDR built in, and uses a mix voluntary standards and binding packages in its vision for a sustainably built future.

Mazria said:

For existing buildings, developed countries should renovate 2-3% of their buildings to reduce fossil fuel consumption by 50 per cent. For developing countries, we propose that they renovate 1.5-2 per cent of their building stock to reduce fossil fuel consumption by 50%. If we do that, the global building sector starts to track down at 1.25% per year, and as a sector, gives us an 85% chance at keeping the world below a 2 degree rise.

This combination of implementation, capacity building, equity and legal flexibility which could provide a key insight on the type of global deal that we might need to bring everyone to the table in Paris. It may also be a key way of encouraging developing countries to make the kind of emission cuts that we will need if we are to peak in 2016.

If we are to ensure that the Paris deal in 2015 guides us along the path of a sustainable future, it will be critical that we incorporate visions such as these. We need not only visionary action to lead us toward net zero emissions, but a vision of the future that incorporates the complexity of the present, and the collaborative potential to change it.

*Watch Ed Mazria’s full presentation on the Roadmap to Zero Emissions at the UN climate talks in Bonn here.

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