Mandating building efficiency retrofits vital to climate action


The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) has released a report concerning the US, Cities, States Must Mandate Building Retrofits to Meet Climate Crisis.

In the report, ACEEE says retrofitting buildings to reduce energy use is one of the most powerful tools to reduce carbon emissions.

However, at current rates, most offices and homes in the US will not be retrofitted for decades or even centuries.

Building performance standards could greatly reduce the nearly one-third of US greenhouse gas emissions that come from buildings. If applied to two-thirds of existing buildings, these standards could reduce carbon emissions in 2050 by more than the current annual emissions from all buildings, power plants, and vehicles in New York state.

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The call comes after some ten US cities and states including Washington D.C, New York City and St Louis enacted building performance standards.

The policies mandate existing buildings larger than a specified size must meet a certain energy efficiency standard, based on either energy use or greenhouse gas emissions per square foot of space.

The laws also require owners of less-efficient buildings to make efficiency upgrades by certain deadlines.

The report notes wide variation among existing policies and calls for policymakers considering building performance standards to consult local stakeholders in developing policies to meet local needs. It calls on jurisdictions that set such policies to devote resources to educating building owners and managers, providing technical assistance, offering financing and incentives, and ensuring effective enforcement.

Antha Williams, global head of environmental programs at Bloomberg Philanthropies, said: “Burning fossil fuels to provide heat and hot water to homes and buildings is not only bad for the climate, it pollutes the air and threatens public health. As cities, counties, and states look for significant ways to address the climate crisis, tackling inefficient buildings is a must.

“The good news is that we are seeing cities across the country take meaningful action by setting ambitious energy standards for buildings and working with owners to help achieve them. We look forward to seeing more city council members and mayors across the country stepping up to implement these types of policies as a major part of their climate plans.”

Steven Nadel, report co-author and executive director of ACEEE, adds: “We have lots of good voluntary programs that help building owners improve energy efficiency, but the truth is they’re just not nearly enough when you look at the climate math.

“Most buildings today are going to be in use for decades to come. If we don’t put any limits on the carbon they’re responsible for, we’ll be locking in terrible climate impacts. Building performance standards are an effective response because policymakers set overall limits and let the building owners decide which upgrades they’re going to implement to meet them.”

The whitepaper is available for download.