For too long businesses and the social sector has followed rather than led government legislation where carbon footprints and zero-energy building is concerned. As a consequence, there has been a great deal of political rhetoric surrounding global CO2 emissions and the effect these are having on our planet, not only for today, but for the future as well. The Paris climate conference (COP21) in December 2015 was intended to be the turning point in creating measures to avoid our current head-on collision with catastrophic global change, but that is not looking like it is the case.
Global Warming Could Cause Sea Level to Rise Globally
If we continue along the current path, then by the end of the century the average global temperature will have risen by 7.2oF which is not good news considering, if the temperature rises by just 5.4oF, that will return the planet to a temperature last seen three million years ago when the water level was 65ft higher. To put that statistic into perspective and to grasp a better understanding of what that really means, a more ‘modest’ 3.6oF increase in global warming would see a rise of 20ft in the sea level across the globe, submerging over 440,000 square miles of land and displacing 375 million people. Ironically, one of the world’s biggest culprits for CO2 emissions, which are being blamed for a rise in global temperatures, would also be one of the most seriously affected countries, and that is China
If there is a glimmer of hope for the impact of the Paris climate conference, it is that on the 31st March 2016 the United States and China confirmed that they will sign the Paris climate change agreement in New York on April 22nd. The bad news is that according to some reports, China does not yet see its CO2 emission levels peaking much before 2035. For those of you who don’t have a habit of reading the small print, the Paris agreement “sets out a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C”. Now wait for the best bit: “The agreement is due to enter into force in 2020”. And to a degree this is the point we are trying to make here. If you don’t have to wait four years before having to comply with any new intended legislation, don’t! Why not take action today, as more and more cities are across the globe?
Cities Are Taking Real Action to Reduce Carbon Emissions
From New York and Boston, to London and even in the Netherlands, plans are being implemented by cities, not governments, “to eliminate energy waste, make buildings energy neutral or positive, maximize building energy efficiency, and decarbonize building energy,” according to Adele Peters of Fastcoexist. If anything, rather than waiting for the market on emissions’ reduction to move, cities are moving the market themselves. As an example, London is rolling out a similar project to energiesprong, a Dutch model for refurbishing homes to net zero-energy levels, however the government’s Minister for Housing is not involved in the project.
The premise for the Dutch model is that in social housing developments, occupants will spend approximately £1,600 per annum on heating costs. So, rather than have the occupants pay that money to utility companies, in return for the same payment, the social housing association will go into a property while the residents remain in occupation, and over the course of a week convert the building into an energy-saving residence with substantially reduced running costs. The resident will still make the same financial contribution towards energy costs, but the payments will be made to the housing association instead. While occupants may not benefit financially, they do though get a remodeled home with brand new kitchen, bathroom and toilet without an increase in rent. The concept of these ‘low energy’ houses has been so successfully adopted that the Dutch are now building 110,000 of these units.
In America, this sea change in local as opposed to government policy now sees other cities embracing a similar philosophy to what is happening on the other side of the Atlantic. New York and Cambridge, Massachusetts, have already established either a “zero net emissions” (ZNE) requirement for all new municipal buildings, or are working on one, while over a dozen other cities in the USA are aiming get all new buildings to ZNE by 2030 and to retrofit all existing buildings to ZNE by 2050. This is not only good climate change policy, but it is better climate change policy because it is happening today, not tomorrow or in 2020.
On the other side of the world, all new residential high-rise units in Sydney, Australia have to meet ultra-low energy emission standards based on the city’s new building regulation requirements, not Australian broad-sweeping government policy on the matter, which seems almost non-existent. Even in the previously mentioned China, a country renowned for being led by government policy, ZNE buildings are starting to appear in a number of cities, but under independent projects and not as a result of a nationwide government incentives or directives. The cities of Chongqing, Suzhou, Nanjing, and Shenzhen have all set independent targets for ZNE building numbers for both 2015 and 2020.