• Energy efficiency can deliver around 40% of the emission reductions needed to reach Paris Agreement targets.
  • Asia accounts for around 50% of global emissions and this will continue to grow as countries construct more buildings.
  • We can kick-start a green recovery in Asia by investing in energy efficient buildings to reduce emissions and create jobs.

It’s been over 18 months since we faced the new reality of a global pandemic and while some countries are resurfacing, others are still in the middle of a health crisis. But the pandemic will end, and as the world slowly but surely re-opens, we need to grab this opportunity to design green recovery plans that focus on areas with the biggest potential impact.

Energy efficiency can deliver around 40% of the emission reductions needed to reach Paris Agreement ambitions and we already have the solutions available to make our buildings more efficient. That’s why I suggest putting buildings first.

With the P4G Seoul Summit behind us it is tempting to move right onto the next big thing on the horizon: COP26 in Glasgow in November. Let’s make sure we take a moment to process key learnings from the summit that can bring us closer to success in Glasgow. The summit’s topic of "Inclusive Green Recovery Towards Carbon Neutrality” is as important as ever.

Governments across the world will be using the coming months and years to make sure economies get back on track through massive investment and job creation. It is crucial we get it right to ensure the recovery is both socially and environmentally sustainable and accelerates rather than slows down the green transition. So where do we go from here?

A good bet would be Asia. Asia is the world’s growth engine and already accounts for around 50% of global emissions – a number which will grow. With the rapid growth of Asian economies and populations, we also know a huge number of buildings are to be built in Asia in the coming years. For example, most of the buildings that will exist in India in 2040 have yet to be built – the residential floor space growing from less than 20 billion square metres today to more than 50 billion in two decades.

This is good news; the rapid development of India and other countries is creating better lives for millions of people. But the current impact of buildings on our climate is heavy. Globally, buildings account for over one-third of global final energy consumption and nearly 40% of total direct and indirect CO2 emissions. This needs to change – and change is possible. Focusing on buildings in Asia will have a big impact.

At the same time, construction and renovation of buildings is one of the most cost-effective places to invest in job creation – mostly local - and thereby a key lever to get our economies up and running again. Up to 30 jobs per million dollars invested in energy efficiency in buildings, according to the IEA. In addition, every ton of emissions avoided by energy efficient buildings saves costs, adding another boost to economies. With the position and growth rates of Asia, there is a huge opportunity to focus our investments on buildings and make sure growth becomes greener and boost climate action.

Cities

What is the World Economic Forum doing to promote sustainable urban development?

Cities are responsible for 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions and are home to over half of the world’s population—a number that will grow to two-thirds by 2050. By going greener, cities could contribute more than half of the emissions cuts needed to keep global warming to less than 2°c, which would be in line with the Paris Agreement.

To achieve net-zero urban emissions by 2050, the World Economic Forum is partnering with other stakeholders to drive various initiatives to promote sustainable urban development. Here are just a few:

To learn more about our initiatives to promote zero-carbon cities and to see how you can be part of our efforts to facilitate urban transformation, reach out to us here.

So, what does this look like in action? In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a 20-storey commercial building – the Consplant Tower – was retrofitted with a new and efficient cooling system. This retrofit resulted in energy savings of 67%. It also increased the comfort of the users of the buildings and the lifetime of the cooling system itself. And it was a good business case: it had a pay-back time of only two years. In short, the investment cut energy use and emissions and saved the owners a lot of money.

The solutions are ready, and their benefits are proven. How do we then make it happen at scale? We need to get the political priorities straight and the investments aligned.

Here, our P4G Summit host, Korea, is showing the right approach. The Korean government was one of the first to act on the climate and economic challenges with one comprehensive plan. In July 2020, it presented the Korean New Deal. The plan aims to accelerate the transition towards a low-carbon green economy by investing ₩160 trillion (close to $143 billion) and creating 1.9 million jobs by 2025.

Currently, Korea’s energy use per capita is among the highest in the world. That means the potential for energy efficiency improvement is significant. To put the Korean New Deal vision into concrete action, doubling down on building efficiency should be top of the list – it will help bring down energy use, decarbonize society and create jobs.

The P4G Summit and the conclusions were a great stepping stone that leaves us closer to a defining COP26. Now its up to all of us to turn learnings into action.