WEF global cities report 2021

Cities need ‘stricter building codes’ to tackle climate change, says WEF

Meeting the challenge of climate change will require a holistic, integrated approach to city development, with sectors such as real estate working in cooperation with other industries, a report by the World Economic Forum has said.

With cities covering just 3% of the earth’s land surface but causing 70% of all carbon emissions, achieving net-zero carbon emissions in urban areas is necessary in keeping global temperature rises below 1.5C.

The key, the report says, is an integrated approach to development that combines ultra-efficient buildings, smart energy infrastructure, clean electrification and compact urban form.

The report sets out recommendations for various sectors and stakeholders, with the built environment being a crucial element given that buildings are the source of about 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Within property, it recommends:

  1. Integrating technologies – Buildings can provide services to, or benefit from, other sectors, such as mobility and energy, leading to faster decarbonisation. This includes electric vehicle charging with energy produced from resources such as rooftop solar panels; grid flexibility through building management systems; and sharing electricity with local renewable energy communities.
  2. Monitoring lifetime performance – Establishing energy and emissions limits that tighten over time would require owners to implement efficiency and electrification retrofits.
  3. Stricter building codes – This includes requiring fully electric, highly efficient grid-interactive buildings with renewably energy systems, carbon reduction targets and the use of reused and reusable materials. A ban on new fossil fuel connections and related infrastructure could also be applied.

On a city-wide scale, it recommends promoting both 15-minute neighbourhoods – places where everything a resident needs is within a 15 minute walk – in order to limit sprawl and a range of alternatives to driving.

It also lists “a few ideas for action” for the building and infrastructure sector

  1. Early planning – “Project sponsors and developers need to identify sustainability and low-carbon opportunities as early as possible to realise maximum benefits.” This includes focusing on renovation over rebuilding. Converting 30% of building by 2030 to fully electrified heating with heat pumps and digitised with 50% energy efficiency gains would lead to a 20% reduction in energy demand and a 35% reduction in emissions. Detailed early planning also allows for easier incorporation of evolving emissions targets.
  2. Thinking beyond isolated projects – While individual highly-efficient buildings are a start, developers should collaborate more with other stakeholders, such as the public sector, to create sustainable districts and communities. This involves considering community needs and integrating technologies to allow for energy saving initiatives like balancing energy consumption between buildings.
  3. Whole Lifecycle Carbon – Design and construction needs to account for emissions that result from the construction, entire lifetime use and demolition of a building.
  4. Accelerating the integration of digital solutions – Less waste and better energy and material efficiency is possible with the use of digital technology such as building information modelling (BIM) and digital twins (a virtual model of the building with all the information on its properties)
  5. Understanding the business case for green buildings – The return on investment on developing and retrofitting buildings has to be clearly understood. “There is a wide variance across asset classes and regions on the return profile of these projects, which is a recognised barrier to action,” it says.

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