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COP28: why we need urgent action on buildings

“COP28 marks a critical moment where policymakers must revisit their commitments and set out an energy efficient, regenerative and just transition for the buildings sector, which World Green Building Council’s (WorldGBC’s) network of 75+ Green Building Councils (GBCs) are ready to help guide and implement”

Where are we at?

This week, world leaders arrive in Dubai for the UN Climate Summit COP28 against a backdrop of geopolitical conflicts, economic difficulties, and natural disasters afflicting the world’s population on an unprecedented scale. At the same time, global carbon emissions have continued to rise alongside temperatures.

This picture is no less true of the world’s buildings, where the sector is falling behind on climate goals. Buildings are responsible for almost 40% of global energy-related carbon emissions – and their operational emissions actually grew year on year from 2015 to 2021 by an average of 1%, even though the Paris Agreement requires us to halve these emissions by 2030.

At present, the resilience of our global building stock is insufficient to cope with the impacts of climate change, such as flooding and extreme heat, which exacerbates the enormous financial risk of inaction and stranded assets.

However the good news is this sector already has the ability to mobilise and scale solutions now to deliver a future that is energy efficient, regenerative and just.

WorldGBC’s strength lies in our network’s ability to connect: ambition with action, global with local, policy with implementation. Our network of 75+ Green Building Councils and their 46,000+ members are ready to work with governments to update Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that focus on delivering resilient and decarbonised buildings at speed and scale.

What we need is an enabling policy environment, industry ambition and finance into better buildings to leverage the solutions that already exist within our network.

COP28 is a hugely significant opportunity for policymakers to recalibrate and deliver the future we know is possible, and get back on track to make a sustainable future a reality. This COP is special in that it marks the first ever Global Stocktake when governments will present progress made against their country commitments, or Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), and begin the process of updating them.

How policymakers can embrace the critical role of buildings

COP28 must pave the way towards governments setting out ambitious NDCs which are compatible with the goals of the Paris Agreement and ensuring a liveable planet for their citizens.

In order to do this, the time has come for policymakers to embrace the role of the built environment as a protagonist in the climate change story, and deliver on its unrivalled potential to tackle the tipping point in global warming, humanitarian challenges and economic uncertainties.

With the solutions to build the transition to an energy efficient, regenerative and just future for the built environment already widely available, and being deployed by our network of GBCs, there can be no excuses for delay.

How WorldGBC and our network are leading the way

The Buildings Breakthrough target – that near-zero emission and resilient buildings are the new normal by 2030 – will enable GBCs to accelerate their climate action to continue delivering the goals of the breakthrough.

In fact two of WorldGBC’s climate action programmes – BuildingLife and Advancing Net Zero – are recognised as key initiatives that support the delivery of the Buildings Breakthrough.

The implementation of the Buildings Breakthrough commitment by national governments needs to happen through rallying also city level and local action on the ground – this is exactly what our GBCs are doing to make the Breakthrough a reality.

Our GBCs are already rallying their networks of +46,000 companies to deliver this impact and year on year are improving local, regional and national policies. Our 2022 Annual report states that cumulatively our GBCs have certified 4.3 billion m² of green building space, and influenced policy changes in 26 countries impacting 238 million people.

Some policy changes which are currently happening through the advocacy of GBCs, include:

  • Irish GBC has built cross-party support for Whole Life Carbon (WLC) policy, meeting with all the country’s main parties and giving evidence at a parliamentary hearing to share insights from their WLC roadmap.
  • Colombia GBC has contributed to the development of the Eco Urban Policy for Bogotá, as well as a sustainable construction manual. They are also contributing to the development of improvements in existing sustainable buildings regulation at national level.
  • Hong Kong GBC through its policy work has secured more stringent national requirements on energy audit and disclosure of energy consumption, and innovations in promoting grid-responsive buildings.

All 75+ GBCs are also working with national governments to help them put into practice WorldGBC’s Global Policy Principles, released only earlier this year, which represents a holistic vision of how policy can transform the built environment across seven key areas.

My hopes for COP28

To keep the goals of the Paris Agreement alive, it is paramount that everyone within and outside the built environment sector speaks up at COP28 for comprehensive NDCs that tackle the climate impact of buildings.

That is why WorldGBC has released a new Policy Briefing on how to work with governments to support the implementation of a decarbonised, circular and resilient society.

From a building sector perspective, we believe successful outcomes for key topics of the COP28 negotiations would be:

The Global Stocktake – Parties commit to the Buildings Breakthrough as a platform for collaboration between national governments and stakeholders to accelerate action and optimise the role of buildings in closing the gaps identified in the Global Stocktake. 

Climate Mitigation – Parties commit to the integration of building codes, sub-national policy and commitment within their NDCs, and pledge to double their energy efficiency improvements and triple global renewable energy capacity by 2030.

Climate Adaptation – Parties agree on a Global Goal for Adaptation and recognise the role of buildings in anticipating, adapting and responding to climate impacts and commit to making greater efforts to integrate resilience and adaptation into existing policies and programmes, including within the building sector.

Climate Finance – Parties agree to increased funding for energy efficiency improvements and Loss and Damage, and support a global reform of financial institutions for more just, equitable and effective debt lending and borrowing.

How you can get involved

Endorsing and advocating the calls to action within WorldGBC’s policy briefing is one of many ways that governments, businesses and finance can get involved in our #BuildingTheTransition campaign at COP28. I encourage you to read closely and identify where you can have an impact, both by taking action yourself and spreading this message with your networks.



  • Partner with your local Green Building Council.
  • Take accelerated action to decarbonise your buildings and business now by:
    • Joining a climate initiative such as our Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment and the UN’s Race to Zero.
    • Set near term targets by 2030 and long term targets by 2050 (at the latest).
    • Publicly report and publish data and decarbonisation progress.
  • Read WorldGBC’s “Beyond the Business Case” report to understand why you can’t afford not to invest in a sustainable transition.


  • There is a gulf of sustainability practices and policies between the built environment industry and the finance sector – the two sides need to talk to each other (better) to get the money flowing.
  • Contact your local Green Building Council to help bridge the gap between industry, finance sector and regulation in the country you operate in.