The CEO of the World Green Building Council says all new buildings will soon have to be net zero in order to avert catastrophic climate change.

Speaking at the sidelines of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris, Terri Wills, CEO of the World Green Building Council, said the implementation of net zero building practices will be essential to achieving ambitious goals for curbing the severity of global warming.

“We’ve done some work with International Energy Agency here in Paris, looking at a number of scenarios for different sectors including the building and construction sector,” Wills said. “They said for us to limit global warming to two degrees the building sector will have to play a major role, reducing emissions by 84 gigatonnes from now until 2050 – the equivalent of not building 22,000 coal plants.

“If we continue to build the way we are right now, then we’re on track to achieving six degrees of global warming. We cannot let that happen, as the results would be catastrophic.”

According to Wills, in order to keep global warming within a two degree temperature increase, it’s imperative that the building and construction sectors engage in the widespread implementation of net zero carbon measures as soon as is feasible.

“The science tells us that we have to get to net zero fairly quickly to keep to a two degree scenario,” she said. “In order to reduce emissions by 84 gigatonnes by mid-century and keep global warming to two degrees all new buildings will have to be net zero, whether they’re certified or not, by 2030.”

The positive news for the planet is that the implementation of net zero building measures to receive a boost from commitments given at COP21 by a slew of green building councils – including Australia’s, to the implementation of a certification system.

“We have three green building councils, including GBC Australia, that have committed to introducing net zero certification, which will play a critical role,” said Wills. “We believe that having a certification for net zero that will be introduced by Australia, South Africa and Canada, will really incentivize the market to move towards this essential goal.”

Wills noted that incentivizing the adoption of net zero measures via a certification system is of critical importance, as it will spur developers to overcome some of the technical and practical hurdles involved in its implementation.

“We think [net zero] is achievable but it’s still quite complex so there are a number of technical issues that sometimes need to be worked,” she said. “The green building councils introducing certification on net zero will really help to get the sector moving and decarbonising quickly.”

A prime example of the role that such incentives can play is the pioneering efforts by Australia’s Lend Lease to create district-wide net zero development schemes in Sydney and London.

“Lend Lease actually has two projects which are achieving net carbon negative results on a district-wide scale – the Barangaroo project, as well as a really exciting project in London called Elephant and Castle,” Wills said.

“They basically have redesigned an inner city region which will be a district energy system, with biogas. The housing is super low carbon and really energy efficient, but often it’s the renewable systems that goes into these projects can really take us to the next level and get us to net zero.

“This is where certification comes in, because Lend Lease has been participating in this climate positive program, and receiving tremendous recognition for being an advanced company pursuing this ambitious goal. For them that’s a great incentive.”

Wills also hopes that the introduction of net zero certification will eventually prompt governments to introduce regulation that spurs more climate neutral or climate positive building creation.

“Certification could also encourage governments at all levels to start regulating towards net zero,” she said. “Once they begin to see a certain number of projects and the backing of the market, it could give them the confidence to start regulation. That’s where certification can play a really importance role.”