Learn why Architecture 2030 founder Edward Mazria is confident that the building industry can phase out carbon emissions in the next two decades.
As we bid goodbye to 2020, we know many challenges lie ahead. The last four years have been trying in many ways, but for the architecture, planning, and building community, they also have been an urgent call to action to rapidly decarbonize the building sector. The good news is that the U.S. building sector and built environment are now within reach of achieving zero carbon (CO2) emissions by 2040.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the building sector’s 2020 operating carbon emissions—that is, the emissions from the energy supplied to operate every building in the country—was 27% below 2005 levels. In other words, the building sector not only met the U.S. commitment to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Paris Agreement of a 26% to 28% reduction from 2005 emissions levels, but it also achieved the goal five years ahead of the 2025 target date. In fact, the EIA projects that the building sector’s carbon emissions will continue to decline post-pandemic if we just continue on our present course.
How did this happen? Though the U.S. has added more than 50 billion square feet to its building stock, energy consumption in the building sector stabilized in 2005 and has not increased since. Emissions have been dropping significantly because new and existing buildings are designed and constructed more efficiently each year, and because the U.S. has transitioned to cleaner fuels and renewables, the latter of which have become the country’s fastest growing source of electricity generation.
Today the planet’s average global temperature has risen by slightly more than 1°C from pre-industrial levels. Unless the world collectively reduces current levels of global carbon emissions 50% to 65% by 2030—and completely phases them out by 2040—it will likely to pass the 1.5°C warming threshold set by the Paris Agreement in 2015, upon which the devastating impacts of climate change will dramatically escalate.