Research identifies that the most successful cities balance regulation, incentives, innovation and accelerators and work in partnership with landlords, investors, developers and occupiers.
City governments are setting ambitious sustainability targets – often well ahead of national goals – but plans to tackle the carbon emissions from buildings are frequently given insufficient attention, claims a new report.
The research identified that the most successful cities to advance decarbonisation will be those that take a more holistic approach and balance regulation, incentives, innovation and accelerator programmes. The report also said partnerships with landlords, investors, developers and occupiers are paramount.
Decarbonising Cities and Real Estate by real estate consultancy JLL highlights how a significant opportunity exists to achieve these city goals with improved consistency of standards, policies and reporting of building emissions.
In a study of 32 global urban centres, JLL’s research revealed that real estate’s contribution to emissions averages 60 per cent, even higher in the world’s largest business centres – as much as 78 per cent in London, 73 per cent in Tokyo, 71 per cent in Washington, DC, 70 per cent in Paris and 66 per cent in New York.
Despite this, the study finds there is a significant gap between the policies enacted in municipalities, the impact of the real estate industry and the climate science that indicates the need to reach peak emissions to limit global warming.
“Partnerships between the private-sector and local governments are critical to driving tangible progress in decarbonising the economy, particularly in the Global North where so much retrofit is required of existing building stock,” said Guy Grainger, global head of sustainability services and environmental, social and governance (ESG) for JLL. “If this doesn’t happen expect local governments to introduce heavy regulation and penalties on building standards – there will be winners and losers as cities race to zero.”
“Partnerships between the private-sector and local governments are critical to driving tangible progress in decarbonising the economy”
The report highlights several cities for their innovative approaches to reducing emissions from buildings, including New York City with a raft of local laws that are among the most stringent globally. It also cities: Singapore and Vancouver, which have set out holistic approaches to greening their buildings; Paris and Amsterdam, which are taking a lead in considering embodied carbon; London and Los Angeles which are setting the pace on biodiversity; and Tokyo’s cap-and-trade programme which incentivises building owners to reduce emissions.
The research warns, though, that, in aggregate at the global scale, policy is lagging behind the science today and this puts a greater onus on the private sector to take the lead in climate action. Waiting for regulation to take action is not advised, and those who act now will have more resilient assets and even a competitive edge.
One of the biggest gaps in realising net zero targets is in greening energy grids – a challenge corporates have no direct control over and one that often requires larger collaboration at the multi-city or national level. To meet this challenge of both breadth and urgency, the report recommends that cities collaborate with neighbouring local, state and national governments to develop large-scale renewable energy and storage infrastructure.
The research also identified the pivotal role that knowledge-sharing and accelerator programmes play in facilitating the retrofitting of existing buildings, particularly for small owners and occupants. In developed cities, 80 per cent of the building stock that will be standing in 2050 has already been built. To meet 2050 targets, retrofitting rates will need to exceed 3 per cent per year – they currently stand at 1-2 per cent – making knowledge-sharing of sustainable practices between governments and large and small entities critical to keep pace.
This research highlighted a wide array of regulations and reporting structures being rolled out by governments, and different metrics and definitions being adopted. It concluded that cross-border collaboration will be needed, especially to help mitigate the worst impacts of climate change for the planet, and in particular for the most vulnerable cities in the Global South.