Monday, May 14, 2007

Making buildings behave better

The Economist: Unless you were a specialist in the matter you probably didn't rush to read the report of the third working group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), when it came out earlier this month. A pity. It focused on the economics of mitigating climate change, and it came up with some striking news for town and city types.

We all know plenty by now about the part played by cars in climate change. But what about the part played by buildings, with all their systems for heating, cooling, lighting and power? The IPCC report looked at the potential for cutting emissions of carbon dioxide from all major culprits—including transport, power generation, general industry, agriculture and buildings. Despite all those exhaust-pipes and power-station chimneys, it found that the greatest potential lay with buildings.

Even with a “carbon price” of less than $20 per tonne, (ie, a polluter would have to pay $20 per tonne of carbon produced), you might expect to see a reduction of more than 5m tonnes of carbon dioxide a year from buildings, compared with less than 2m from transport.

In most industries, moreover, it would cost money to cut emissions—for instance, by replacing cheap coal-fired power generation with more expensive wind power. But buildings could cut 30% of their emissions by 2030 and save money at the same time.

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