Building construction and operations are among the largest contributors to climate change globally, accounting for nearly 40% of energy-related CO2 emissions. Yet, efficiency, materials improvements and other buildings solutions are among the most cost-effective climate mitigation actions available. Harnessing the potential of net zero carbon buildings is a powerful step toward reducing emissions and achieving other co-benefits, from new jobs to lower energy costs.

Net-zero carbon buildings (NZCBs) are highly energy efficient, fully powered by renewable energy sources, and are built or retrofitted with sustainable, low carbon materials. Unfortunately, they currently account for less than 1% of the global building stock. Shifting the sector toward more net-zero carbon buildings will be a challenge, as logistics and value chain encompass many different industries — from materials and construction to finance and development — and vary from place to place.

To help combat challenges of fragmentation and improve uptake, WRI is working toward a more integrated, intentional and locally tailored approach to incorporating NZCB solutions into the built environment value chain.

In 2023, WRI joined the All in for a Net Zero Built Environment initiative, supported by the We Mean Business Coalition. The initiative brings together key global partners — led by WRI, the World Green Building Council and World Business Council for Sustainable Development — to accelerate the implementation of net zero carbon and resilient buildings by enhancing cross-sector and multi-level coordination. The objective is to accelerate market transformation and transition to a healthier, greener, more inclusive built environment. The initiative also aims to contribute to important co-benefits beyond the buildings sector, including expanding access to energy, reducing household energy costs and creating green jobs.

At the local level, the initiative facilitates demonstration projects, such as development of local business models and financing mechanisms supported by integrated policy development through city action plans. At the national level, WRI is helping to draft or create pathways to implementation for “whole life of carbon” roadmaps, which focus on embodied as well as operational carbon emissions, in India and Mexico with two demonstration cities in each country.

This partnership brings together diverse strengths from each organization, improving our ability to collaborate with different stakeholders to drive change — from material supply to construction, operations and demolition, developers and financial institutions. Input from private sector partners is key to developing effective policies to enable NZCBs and to exploring innovative business models and financing mechanisms that support the mainstreaming of NZCBs into the market.

The work of the All in for a Net Zero Built Environment will ultimately contribute to alignment with the Buildings Breakthrough sectoral initiative, launched at COP28, as part of the Breakthrough Agenda, providing a framework for multiple actors to join up and strengthen their actions in key emitting sectors.