The built environment has the highest and most cost-effective greenhouse gas emission mitigation potential of any sector globally. Approximately 39% of global CO2 emissions come from buildings, with urbanization, economic growth and cooling requirements from rising temperatures increasing building energy use every day. At the same time, 1.6 billion people do not have access to safe, affordable housing with climate change exacerbating risks further year after year. 

Three quarters of the urban infrastructure that will exist in 2050 has yet to be built. This presents a crucial opportunity to shape more resource-efficient, healthy, low-carbon cities and places through better buildings. Meanwhile, nature-based infrastructure is proving to be a valuable tool to improve resilience, people’s wellbeing and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

WRI’s Built Environment team focuses on promoting regenerative urban design and development policies in the built environment via nature-based solutions and nature-positive design. For example, our work addresses cooling, energy efficiency and air quality, but also urban development, restoring habitats and broader integrated climate action.  

We provide practical resources to cities, businesses, national governments and other stakeholders to help reduce building carbon emissions; support national and local governments to develop ambitious, inclusive and resilient building roadmaps; convene stakeholders to facilitate capacity building and knowledge exchange; and help advance the global narrative on the contribution of the built environment to the Paris Agreement, Sustainable Development Goals and a just transition.   

A flagship project of the Built Environment team is the Building Efficiency Accelerator, which supports the United Nations’ Sustainable Energy for All goal of doubling the rate of energy efficiency improvement globally by 2030. WRI and partners also launched the Zero Carbon Building Accelerator to build on the Building Efficiency Accelerator to support national and subnational governments in aligning their decarbonization efforts through coordinated roadmaps and action plans for better buildings and places surrounding them, cleaner air and more efficient urban development. 

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 to join forces towards accelerating the implementation of net zero carbon and resilient buildings and enhancing cross-sector and multi-level coordination to accelerate market transformation and transition to a healthier, greener, more inclusive built environment. At the local level, this includes facilitating demonstration projects, the 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 create “whole life of carbon” roadmaps in India and Mexico with two demonstration cities in each country.  

Our work has also expanded beyond building sector electrification to encompass a more holistic and integrated view of the built environment. Through initiatives like Cities4Forests, we work to bring resilience and place-based, regenerative practices that go beyond “do no harm” to all cities. And our data initiatives, like Data for Cool Cities, are leveraging state-of-the-art tools to give decision-makers the insights needed to adapt to climate risks, achieve valuable co-benefits and scale up solutions. 

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