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As Cities Grow, So Should their Energy Efficiency

If you want to find major emitters of greenhouse gases, look no further than your city’s skyline. Buildings account for more than one-third of all final energy consumption and half of global electricity use. They’re responsible for approximately one-third of global carbon dioxide emissions.

While rapid urban development demands new infrastructure, there is a cost-effective solution for reducing buildings’ environmental impacts – energy efficiency. That’s why the World Resources Institute (WRI) and Johnson Controls (JCI) are partnering today to launch the Building Efficiency Initiative. This Initiative will convene city and private sector leaders to accelerate progress on building efficiency using innovative finance and distributed energy.

Urbanization Poses a Challenge to Sustainable Buildings

While cities are engines of economic growth, they’re also engines of environmental impact. According to the Better Growth, Better Climate report, cities generate around 80 percent of global economic output and 70% of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. And they’re poised to become even larger than they are today: By 2030, cities will account for 66 percent of the world’s population, up from 54 percent today.

Much of this growth will occur in rapidly urbanizing countries in Asia and Africa, which are poised to make significant investments in new infrastructure to accommodate these population increases. In China, for instance, 60 percent of all buildings will be new buildings by 2020.

City leaders have a choice: Continue today’s building practices and lock in inefficient energy consumption, or invest in energy efficiency, reduce electricity use, and save money in the long-term.

Building Efficiency Brings Cost Savings and Environmental Benefits

Energy efficiency advances both climate action and economic growth, and investments in building efficiency can have particularly high economic and social returns. According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Outlook 2006, each additional dollar spent on energy efficiency in electrical equipment, appliances, and buildings avoids more than two dollars in energy supply costs. Many of the same design and operational principles that lead to greater energy efficiency can also lead to other benefits like reduced water use, greater climate resilience, and social improvements.

New York City, for example, is using improvements in building efficiency as a means to combat inequality and meet the city’s new commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Mayor Bill De Blasio compared energy costs to a regressive tax, because lower-income residents tend to spend a higher share of their income on energy than more affluent citizens and often live in less-efficient buildings. By investing in building efficiency, cities can reduce expenses for lower-income residents while curbing emissions. The city plans to spend at least US$1 billion in building efficiency improvements and aims to upgrade all public buildings with major energy use by 2025.

Energy efficiency also gives cities the ability to supply energy to a greater number of people. Worldwide, 1.3 billion people lack access to electricity, and 14% of those are in urban areas. This is a particular challenge in rapidly growing cities with informal settlements or slums, whose residents often have access to energy sources that are costly, unreliable, or heavily polluting. Greater energy efficiency can make energy supply available to more people, and make energy more affordable for low-income households.

Introducing the Building Efficiency Initiative

The Building Efficiency Initiative – part of the WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities – will combine Johnson Controls’ expertise in providing building efficiency solutions with WRI’s research excellence and on-the-ground experience to advance global solutions for resource efficiency. Specifically, the Initiative will engage public and private sector innovators to develop, test, and scale energy efficiency solutions like new finance models, and promote better approaches for integrating distributed energy systems at the building and community level.

A flagship project of the Building Efficiency Initiative will be to support the United Nations’ Sustainable Energy for All Building Efficiency Accelerator Platform, which was launched at last week’s U.N. Climate Summit. The platform seeks to double the rate of energy efficiency improvement globally by 2030.

The world’s growing cities can adopt a more sustainable path to growth, save resources and money, and build a brighter future for their citizens. This goal starts by improving energy efficiency, one building at a time.

For more information on the partnership between WRI and Johnson Controls, read our press release.

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