News Brief

Decarbonization Can Work in Emerging Economies but Faces Flak

Achieving zero-carbon buildings is possible in the world’s biggest developing markets, but a new report recommends improvements.

Graph shows that India, China, Mexico, and Kenya all have work to do to develop the preferred pathway to zero carbon buildings: energy efficiency and onsite renewables first.

Among the countries studied, China has best incentivized advanced energy efficiency, while India has done the least to support the development of renewables.

Image: World Resources Institute
The United Nations recently called for people everywhere to make the transition to zero-carbon buildings. Now, a new report from the World Resources Institute (WRI) finds that making this transition is feasible from a regulatory standpoint in several countries that have historically put little emphasis on energy efficiency or renewable energy. However, more policies are needed to ensure zero-carbon buildings can be developed in the most cost effective and sustainable way.

Researchers analyzed the policy frameworks of four countries—India, China, Mexico, and Kenya—in order to understand whether there are currently policies in place that would even allow for zero-carbon buildings. Zero-carbon buildings require at least some energy accounting because the building must procure or produce onsite enough carbon-free renewable energy to meet building operations’ energy consumption annually. Without policies like net metering or the ability to obtain a power purchase agreement, it could be virtually impossible to track or scale zero-carbon buildings.

Fortunately, every country analyzed except Kenya currently provides at least one way to achieve zero-carbon buildings without relying on the purchase of carbon offsets. And Kenya itself is close, with several pathways that are feasible, but only in “limited applications,” according to the report.

Unfortunately, none of the countries analyzed had regulatory schemes that effectively encourage what the report acknowledges is generally the most advisable pathway for creating zero-carbon buildings: instituting advanced energy efficiency first, before procuring renewable energy, as well as developing onsite renewable energy before purchasing it from offsite.

Take, for example, Mexico. Building teams there won’t encounter insurmountable regulations while trying to achieve a zero-carbon building using basic energy-efficiency measures and onsite renewables. However, by further developing policies that support advanced energy-efficiency measures, Mexico could position itself to allow zero-carbon buildings to be built more affordably. The report specifically points to scaling back the extensive electricity subsidies in Mexico, which currently hurt the business case for energy-efficiency measures.

For more information:

World Resources Institute

Published October 7, 2019

Pearson, C. (2019, October 7). Decarbonization Can Work in Emerging Economies but Faces Flak. Retrieved from

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