All parties worldwide including those in building and construction must work toward NetZero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, a leading entrepreneur and environmental advocate says.

In a keynote address delivered to the Transform event hosted by the Green Building Council of Australia and sponsored by steel and metal products provider Infrabuild, Gonzalo Munoz, a Chilean entrepreneur and High-Level Climate Action Champion, called on companies, industries, cities, investors and universities to strive toward net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

According to Munoz, consequences of climate change should not be underestimated.

Already, he says natural disasters throughout 2019 impacted 95 million people, claimed more than 11,000 lives and caused more than $US103 billion in economic losses. (Obviously, not all of this was directly caused by man-made climate change.)

Looking forward, Munoz says that under current global warming trajectories:

  • 970 cities could be subject to extreme heat (average summer temperatures exceeding 35 degrees Celsius/95 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • Over 490 cities could experience extreme heat and poverty
  • Over 500 cities could experience lack of water availability
  • Over 1,600 cities could be subject to food insecurity
  • Over 570 cities could be impacted by sea level rise
  • Power supplies of over 230 cities could be vulnerable to sea level rise.

(See here for a discussion of the likely effect of climate change on cities.)

Going forward, Munoz says what needs to be done was laid out in the 1.5 degree report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2018.

That report specified that that to restrict global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius between now and 2050, greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced to the tune of 45 percent by 2030 and to reach NetZero by 2050.

To achieve this, action is needed across all sectors.

Already, Munoz says efforts across several areas are encouraging. These include commitments from vehicle makers to move toward electric vehicles, a movement toward green hydrogen plants in the steel sector and massive investments in renewable energy.

He says a critical juncture will take place at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP 26) in Glasgow in November. Here, countries which are signatories of the Paris Agreement will review the agreement’s implementation and take decisions as necessary.

Particularly important will be the LIMA Paris Action Agenda, which was initiated in 2014 and enables non-state actors from business and civil society to help determine action plans for the Accord’s implementation. This, Munoz says, has enabled business and industry groups, lower-level governments (below national level) and academia to work with national governments to determine how commitments within the accord will be delivered.

Toward this aim, Munoz and his colleague Nigel Topping are spearheading the Race to Zero campaign, which aims to mobilise cities, businesses, investors and universities to act toward the NetZero goal and to demonstrate to national governments both the commitment of these actors along with their capacity to deliver meaningful outcomes.

To participate, specific criteria apply to each type of actor. Companies, for example, are asked to make promises regarding climate targets and actions, plan effective strategies to achieve these, act on these plans and publish results at least annually.

As part of their participation, actors can participate in a range of initiatives and access different resources.

For example:

  • Cities can join the C40 Cities network, which consists of 97 cities who have made commitments toward the Paris Agreement targets and can access an online knowledge hub.
  • Business can join the Business Ambition for 1.5 degrees Celsius as part of the UN Global Compact and publicly commit their companies to doing what is necessary to help deliver on the Paris targets.
  • Small Business can access the SME Climate Hub, which provides tools and resources to help those who commit to halving their emissions by 2030 and achieving Net Zero by 2050. These include resources to help develop climate strategies and to measure and reduce emissions along with opportunities to network with those larger companies who will require suppliers to achieve emission reductions targets.
  • In funds management, a group of 35 institutions with more than $5 trillion in assets under management are part of the Asset Owners Alliances and have committed to transition their portfolios to NetZero greenhouse emissions by 2050. Another group known as the NetZero Asset Managers Initiative of 73 signatories with $32 trillion in assets under management have committed to investment strategies which are aligned with the 1.5 degree target.
  • Some are even planning to reach NetZero sooner. More than 1,000 companies are part of the B Corp Climate Collective and have committed to reach a 1.5 degree trajectory in their own operations by 2030. Others have joined the Climate Pledge being spearheaded by Amazon to commit to NetZero by 2040.

Munoz says the importance of property and construction should not be understated. Overall, buildings account for 39 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions (28 percent in operation and 11 percent in construction/material production). Simultaneously, around 45 percent of buildings and 75 percent of infrastructure assets which will exist in 2050 are yet to be constructed.

For this reason, the industry needs to move beyond current practices and embrace new technology, materials and ways of working.

It will also be necessary to create assets which are resistant to climate impacts.

Munoz applauds targets established by the World Green Building Council. These include all new buildings being NetZero in operation by 2030 and a 40 percent reduction in embodied carbon in buildings and infrastructure by that date along with all new buildings being NetZero across their life-cycle by 2050.

Meanwhile, he adds that 57 built environment companies (engineering, construction, building materials, real-estate etc.) worldwide have joined in the Race to Zero, and hopes that 20 percent of global real-estate companies will have signed on by November’s COP meeting.

Speaking of Australia, Munoz says companies such as Lendlease, Goodman, Fraser Properties and Dexus are making impressive gains.

Meanwhile, he applauds the recent overhaul of Green Star – especially with its expectation of new buildings being NetZero, fully electric and powered by renewables.

Still, he makes two points.

In order for 2030 WGBC targets to be met, new buildings will need to be designed to meet these targets by 2025. This is because typical project delivery timeframes mean that new buildings which are completed from 2030 onward will be being designed from 2025 onward.

To achieve this, work must start now.

With aforementioned targets being global in nature, meanwhile, developed nations including Australia will need to move ahead of these to compensate for nations who are less able to move quickly.

Overall, he encourages cities, companies, universities and investors to join race to zero.

“If you understand how serious this crisis is, and how urgent action is required – If you believe and follow science, and if you want your actions to been seen and counted by the global community – then you must join Race to Zero now,” Munoz said.