Results - Buildings
Emissions from the buildings sector account for 21% of global GHG emissions. Here we analyse the potential of global climate governance to promote the decarbonisation of this sector. Global governance and cooperation in the buildings sector is generally difficult given its mostly localised supply chains, lack of exposure to international trade, and highly differentiated needs in relation to geography and climate. Several existing institutions could in theory help to close the governance gaps identified but in practice all have limitations, such as the diverging interests among the parties to the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement and the need to achieve consensus. The best way forward may therefore be a coalition of ambitious countries and other others, such as a “Breakthrough” on the buildings sector, that draws on the strengths of existing institutions.
Our article “Global Climate Governance for the Decarbonisation of the Buildings Sector (Deliverable 6.1c)” is based on the perspective of seeing climate change mitigation as a transformation problem and aims to contribute to the understanding of how global climate governance can contribute to the transformation of the buildings sector. To this end, this article proceeds in four steps. First, it identifies key strategies and instruments for the decarbonisation of the buildings sector as well as challenges and barriers that impede the transformation of the sector. Second, it analyses how international institutions could in theory assist with overcoming these barriers and mobilising opportunities (“governance potential”). Third, it assesses to what extent existing intergovernmental and transnational institutions that have relevance for the decarbonisation of the buildings sector have so far in practice delivered on the identified governance potential. On this basis, it discusses how global governance could be enhanced.
Buildings are one of the main emitting sectors but political attention to the need to decarbonise this sector has been low. Nationally, most countries lack strong mitigation policies and/or enforcement. Internationally, the sector was not even mentioned in recent outcomes of key institutions such as the G7 or the MEF. Correspondingly, the potential of global governance has been exploited only to a limited extent, though with some variation.
Very many institutions are active on the provision of knowledge and learning. Regarding the buildings sector as a whole, however, there is no strong government-backed signal on the need to decarbonise; various calls for action were supported only by a handful of governments. There also is little rule-setting. There is no requirement for a sectoral breakdown of NDCs and LTSs. There has been some movement towards coordinating standards for air conditioners, but efforts to organise buyers’ or sellers’ clubs for cooling technology were not successful. Correspondingly, the potential to provide transparency and accountability of countries’ actions has been exploited only to a very low extent. While the UNFCCC and the PA have the potential to provide for transparency of parties’ actions in the buildings sector, this potential is not exploited as parties’ performance is not discussed at sector level. More generally, NDC achievement is not mandatory and the PA’s transparency mechanisms have several weaknesses. Regarding means of implementation, while substantial resources seem to be provided, there is a lack of data on actual needs. IPCC and IEA consider that investments need to grow by a factor of 3-4 by 2030 to get onto a Paris-compatible trajectory.
Several already existing institutions could in theory help to close the governance gaps identified. In practice, however, the near-term potential is probably limited. The UNFCCC has the authority to act across all five governance functions, but the diverging interests of its broad membership and the need to achieve consensus have made it difficult to agree on strong decisions. The IEA has done much work to promote energy efficiency as “first fuel” and has strong competence to contribute to transparency, but has no mandate to create rules and standards. The G20 will probably be blocked by the Ukraine war for the foreseeable future and the G7 did not feature buildings in its most recent leaders’ communiqué.
The best way forward may therefore be a coalition of ambitious countries and other others, such as a “Breakthrough” on the buildings sector, that draws on the strengths of existing institutions. France and Morocco are currently leading efforts to launch one. To add value to the existing institutional landscape, such a “Breakthrough” should include an ambitious global target or roadmap as well ambitious individual targets and pledges to increase means of implementation for developing countries. The GlobalABC and the IEA could track implementation, as the IEA is already doing case with the existing Glasgow Breakthroughs. Successive COP presidencies could use the annual COP sessions as platform and occasion to demand demonstration of clear progress. In addition, if country members included their Breakthrough pledges in their NDCs, they would thereby be subject to the transparency mechanisms of the Paris Agreement. However, the success of such as “Breakthrough” is far from assured given that so far all calls for building decarbonisation commitments by governments gained only a handful of signatories. A fallback option would be to strengthen the GlobalABC in terms of its membership and administrative capacity.