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Why buildings? Our key messages

Building stock increasing globally: urgently need climate-friendly, resilient standards now to #FutureProofBuildings and lock in green growth

The equivalent of Paris is added in floor space every 5 days and that of Japan every year until 2060!

Half of the buildings standing in 2060 have not yet been built! The number of new buildings is likely to grow rapidly in the coming years, especially in Africa and Asia. This rapid growth will challenge the target of a 30% energy intensity improvement in buildings by 2030, needed to put the sector on track to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

What we build today will be our emissions legacy, the buildings and construction sector needs to lock in new norms of energy efficiency, green materials, and better practice in design and construction.

The rising energy use from inefficient buildings will impact us all, whether it be through access to affordable energy services, poor air quality or higher energy bills. 

Building stock

Ca. two thirds of countries still do not have mandatory building energy. Most new construction will occur in those countries.

Governments need to act by adopting mandatory building energy codes for both new buildings and the refurbishment of existing ones. This is all the more urgent in light of soaring construction rates, with most buildings built in countries lacking mandatory building energy codes. By strengthening these codes every 3-5 years, zero-emission and net zero energy codes could rapidly become the norm. The speed at which we renovate older buildings also needs to rise, reaching two per cent by 2025 and 3 per cent by 2040 in developed countries and 1.5 per cent and 2 per cent in developing ones.  

Building Codes 2019

Buildings and construction are a heavy weight when it comes to climate change, employment, and wealth. 

Buildings are a key driver of energy demand and emissions– Buildings and construction, led by residential building energy consumption represent 36% of final energy demand globally and almost 40% of global energy- and process-related emissions 

  • The buildings sector – a huge engine of the global economy – employs as much as 12% of the workforce in many countries. 
  • Our buildings are massive, untapped opportunities to address climate change, increase prosperity and clean up our air.

Global Share of building and construction final energy

In 2018, global buildings sector emissions increased for the second consecutive year, rising by 2% from 2017 to a record high of 9.7 GtCO2. This growth resulted from increases in floor space and demand for electricity, which is still primarily fossil fuel-generated. 

building sector emissions

Sources: Derived from IEA (2019a), World Energy Statistics and Balances (database), and IEA (2019b), Energy Technology Perspectives, building model,

Energy efficiency gains come from:
  • Heating, lighting and cooking and with more offices and homes increasingly powered by cleaner forms of energy. 
  • Shifts towards energy saving technologies like heat pumps, improved windows and insulation, the use of less energy-intensive materials, and buildings design. 
 An Emerging Challenge - Cooling Buildings. Space cooling is an important emerging challenge – buildings have a key role in addressing them. 

an energy emerging

Notes: Energy intensity is final energy per unit of floor area. Appliances and other includes household appliances (e.g. refrigerators,  washers and televisions), smaller plug loads (e.g. laptops, phones and other electronic devices) and other service equipment,

Owing to technological improvements, overall reductions have been made in energy intensity for space heating, lighting, appliances, cooking and water heating. However, space cooling energy intensity has increased as a result of greater cooling demand in hot regions. 

Energy demand for cooling systems and air conditioners is rising sharply, linked with improving incomes in developing countries and higher temperatures – such as recent heat waves this year in many parts of the globe – as a result of climate change. Indeed, energy use for ‘space cooling’ has already increased 33 per cent during 2010-2018. Energy use for ‘space cooling’ has already increased 25% since 2010 and there are now more than 1.6 billion air conditioning units in buildings globally. Today, the largest markets are not in the hottest countries on the planet: only 8% of the 2.8 billion people living in places with average daily temperatures above 25 degrees have an air conditioner.

Buildings have a key role in addressing this challenge: A lot can be achieved by reducing the need for cooling in the first place including by passive and locally adapted building designs, nature-based solutions and effective urban planning. The International Passive House Association estimates that homes built on this principle can, even in more temperate countries, use up to 90 per cent less energy for cooling--and also heating. 
Boosting greenery such as planting more urban trees; promoting green rooves with vegetation, shading infrastructure and coating surfaces like roads and rooves with reflective paints can help cool cities, communities and buildings.

  • Temperatures in homes roofed with corrugated tin can be made 20 per cent cooler if the rooves are coated in reflective paint or tiles
  • One study in the United States suggests planting trees can cut air conditioning costs for detached houses by up to 30 per cent

Nature-based solutions are just one part of the mix, however. The UNEP led Cool Coalition— one of the “Transformational Initiatives” put forward by the Executive Office of the Secretary-General for the UN Climate Action Summit in September 2019 - takes a five-pronged approach to minimizing emissions from the sector: Avoid the need for active cooling through smart building and city design, shift cooling to renewable energy—such as through district cooling, improve efficiency of conventional cooling by taking advantage of the Kigali Amendment, protect vulnerable people from the effects of heat extremes and broken medical and agricultural cold chains, and leverage all possible cooperation.  According to the EIU report, the Cooling Imperative, district cooling systems are helping to reduce the costs of running buildings by up to 40% while cutting CO2 emissions by around 70% in Copenhagen. 

Energy efficiency investment in buildings slows - despite being an excellent investment opportunity, energy efficiency remains a small portion of the overall spending on buildings.

There is an emerging gap between total energy efficiency spending versus rapidly growing total investment in building construction and renovations. This indicates a slow-down in the rate of energy efficiency investment as a share of total investment when compared to previous growth rates. This is despite estimates by the International Finance Corporation that green buildings could offer a $24.7 trillion investment opportunity by 2030 in developing economies alone.

building slows

Note: HVAC = heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Source:Adapted from IEA (2019d), Energy Efficiency 2019,

The Power of National Climate Action Plans (NDCs)

The scaling-up of national climate action plans—known as Nationally-Determined Contributions (NDCs)—represents a key opportunity to address a wide range of issues, by addressing policy gaps and unleashing a more committed decarbonisation of the buildings and construction sector.
Currently 104 NDCs (around half) mention specific actions to enhance energy-efficiency in buildings, building codes and energy certifications, yet only a few NDCs cover construction and ‘embodied carbon’ linked with the manufacturing of materials like steel and cement used to construct buildings in the first place.

Resilient Buildings – Humanity Needs to be Better Prepared

Building standards must evolve to reflect the urgency for more resilient buildings in the face of climate change and extreme events like storms, floods, high wind speeds and soaring temperatures. 

Increasing numbers of real estate asset managers are now mapping climate risks for their buildings in their national adaptation plans communicated to UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Brazil, Burkina Faso, Kenya and Sri Lanka are among the countries that have included buildings in their national adaptation plans

Partner across industries and sectors to fast track the transition
  • Close to 500 companies with trillions of dollars in revenue, including several property, construction, cement and steel firms have now joined the Science Based Targets initiative, aligning their emission reductions with the Paris Agreement. 
  • The World Green Business Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings commitment, commits 22 cities, 18 companies/organisations, and 5 states/regions to operate all buildings within direct control of the organisation at net zero carbon by 2030, and all buildings by 2050.
Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction

  • Shines a light on actions happening in countries and communities everywhere, pinpointing wide-spread, smarter building codes as one key pathway to positive change. 
  • Provides a snapshot of where the buildings and construction sector stands compared to where it needs to go, highlights exemplary action to tackle this challenge and calls upon others to share in these efforts to deliver on ambitions for a sustainable buildings and construction sector.

Read the 2021 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction
Discover older Global Status Reports for Buildings and Construction