News Brief

Cutting Emissions as Cities Grow: 8 Actions from WRI

Energy efficiency is a prime investment in an era of rapid urbanization, saving $2 for every $1 invested, according to a new report.

Cost of Emissions Reductions

Building efficiency is the most affordable way to cut emissions compared to other industries like agriculture, industry, and transportation.

The building sector has the most potential to reduce carbon emissions affordably, compared to other industry sectors like agriculture and transportation.

Source: World Resources Institute
In the next 15 years, we have a choice: to lock our world into another century of building inefficiency, or to blaze another path. By 2030, an area equal to roughly 60% of the world’s current total building stock will be built or rebuilt in urban areas, according to the World Resources Institute (WRI), and those buildings will define our cities’ energy consumption for the next 30 to 100 years.  

A new policy roadmap report from WRI, Accelerating Building Efficiency: Eight Actions for Urban Leaders, attempts to outline that other path for city-level leaders worldwide.

Globally, buildings and construction are responsible for 60% of electricity use, 12% of water use, 40% of waste, and 40% of material resource use. Precisely because conventional buildings are so resource-intensive, increasing building efficiency is a cost-effective way to reduce climate-change-causing emissions from cities. For every $1 invested in building energy efficiency, $2 is saved in new electricity generation and distribution costs, according to the report. Improving building efficiency could also reduce global CO2 emissions from buildings 83% below business-as-usual by 2050, say the researchers.

WRI’s eight actions for unlocking building efficiency:

  1. Adopt local building efficiency codes and standards: Best practices include requiring or incentivizing retro-commissioning for low-performing buildings, issuing lighting standards, and phasing in performance requirements for major renovations.
  2. Set efficiency improvement targets: Local governments must set clear energy reduction targets to align interests and spur action across a city.
  3. Provide performance information and certifications: The collection of information about the energy use in buildings at the jurisdictional or building scale enables better policy and program design (see Energy Reporting: Its the Law).
  4. Incentivize: Revolving loan funds, trust funds, and tax-lien financing are suggested to help developers overcome upfront cost barriers. Non-financial incentives, such as priority processing of permits or greater allowed floor area, are also recommended and require no investment by local governments.
  5. Lead by example: Local governments should “walk the walk” by making their own building portfolios more efficient and adjusting their procurement procedures to meet certain efficiency standards.
  6. Engage building owners, managers, and occupants: Private-sector building owners should be engaged through partnerships, competitions and awards, and awareness campaigns. Cities should also endorse green lease contract clauses to help address split incentives between building owners and occupants.
  7. Engage technical and financial service providers: Local governments can support private-sector building service providers by providing loan guarantees and assisting with workforce training programs.
  8. Work with utilities: Policies can be developed at a local level to make energy-use data available to residents, building owners, and public agencies.

Accelerating Building Efficiency includes case studies from many efforts in cities across the world, including Johannesburg, South Africa; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Puebla, Mexico; Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; and Lviv, Ukraine.

More on cities and climate change

Climate Change: Building Industry, You’ve Got This!

How Boston Reduced Its Carbon Footprint

NYC Buildings Gain Three Energy Star Points in Year Two


Published June 1, 2016

Pearson, C. (2016, June 1). Cutting Emissions as Cities Grow: 8 Actions from WRI. Retrieved from

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