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European cities commit to net zero buildings

Recently leading European cities and companies pledged to slash carbon emissions from their buildings to net zero at the  Build Upon2 summit.

Helsinki, Finland and Valladolid in Spain have signed the World Green Building Council’s (WorldGBC) Net Zero carbon buildings commitment, alongside property sector leaders BuroHappold, Carbon Credentials, Deerns, Grimshaw Architects, Grosvenor Group, Newsec Finland and Ylva.

By signing the commitment, the cities and companies pledge to reach net zero emissions for their own buildings by 2030, and cities pledge that all buildings in their cities will meet the target by 2050. Several signatories including Helsinki have announced intentions to get there even faster, with buildings playing a central role in the city’s goal to be entirely carbon-neutral by 2035, one of the world’s most ambitious city climate targets.

Jan Vapaavuori, mayor of Helsinki, said: “Climate change is the most crucial challenge of our time and buildings are at the heart of the fight against it.

“The city of Helsinki is committed to taking very ambitious measures in its building stock to reduce heat consumption and increase the use of renewable energy. About 45 per cent of Helsinki's emission reduction potential is related to buildings, so for us it’s the natural place to take climate action.”

Óscar Puente Santiago, mayor of Valladolid, said: “The climate challenge is huge and Valladolid has demonstrated its ambition to improve citizens’ lives by improving our buildings.

“We are working on innovative energy efficiency projects in public and private buildings, retrofitting our buildings and using solar energy. Becoming the first city in Spain to sign the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment is a great opportunity to demonstrate what must be done.”

Valladolid has committed to releasing an ambitious new law next year to drive district heating and renewable energy in new buildings, as well as energy improvements in some 3,000 homes per year between 2020 and 2050. Net zero carbon will also become a precondition for buildings rented by the City Council from 2030.

Helsinki and Valladolid join 26 other leading cities across the world that have already signed the commitment. This signal of increasing ambition from European cities gives an early boost to the ‘European Green Deal’; the upcoming European Union’s flagship strategy to establish the first-climate-neutral continent.

The commitments were unveiled today at a Brussels summit hosted by the Build Upon2 project. Bruno Sauer, chief executive of GBC España and project coordinator, said: “As the COP25 climate negotiations open in Madrid this week, the partners of the Build Upon2 project are calling on public and private sector leaders to commit to decarbonising its building stock, and work with us to develop ambitious strategies to renovate and regenerate our buildings.”

Private sector leaders are also stepping up to the challenge. Ylva, a major property owner in the Helsinki area is committing to net zero carbon in operations across all its buildings by 2025. Like the City of Helsinki, the company is also starting to tackle embodied carbon, a climate issue for construction that is on the rise.

Antti Kerppola, chief executive, Ylva, said: “It’s our role to support Helsinki’s climate neutral city goals, and by joining the commitment we want to demonstrate that you can change the game if you set out an ambitious target and plan. Through this action we hope to inspire the 30,000 strong student community owners that our business interacts with every day.”

They are joined by Newsec Finland which manages €15 billion in assets in Finland. Under the commitment, all its occupied offices will be net zero by 2030.

Grosvenor Group, one of the world's largest privately-owned international property companies, has also signed the commitment. On top of taking property it directly manages - including some historic listed buildings - to net zero by 2030, the company is committed to work towards all buildings across its portfolio, directly and indirectly-managed, to be embodied and operational net zero carbon by 2050.

Grimshaw Architects, based in London, will achieve net zero carbon in its studios across the UK, Australia, Dubai and North America before 2030. They are also committed to designing net zero carbon buildings by 2030, and will work with the construction value chain to support this objective.

Headquartered in the Netherlands, Deerns is committed to achieving zero operational carbon emissions in its own offices by 2025 and educating and influencing industry to make net zero carbon mainstream by delivering future-ready, carbon neutral designs.

BuroHappold Engineering, a UK based integrated engineering consultancy operating in 23 locations worldwide, is committing to net zero carbon in its own business operations by 2021, along with a pioneering target related to its design projects: all new build projects will be net zero carbon in operation by 2030, and all projects by 2050. The company also spearhead the recently launched ‘Engineers Declare’, a campaign calling on UK industry collaboration to drive rapidly towards zero carbon buildings.

In addition to reducing its own impacts, Carbon Credentials commits to enabling the transition to a zero-carbon economy, and in 2019 impacted emissions reductions in excess of 40,000 tCO2e through work with clients.

For Ylva, Newsec, Grosvenor, Grimshaw Architects, Deerns and BuroHappold, joining the Commitment is a pathway to becoming members of EP100 – a global corporate leadership initiative for energy-smart companies, delivered by The Climate Group in partnership with the Alliance to Save Energy.

It brings together energy-smart companies committed to using energy more productively, to lower greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and accelerate a clean economy. The commitment’s inclusion of energy efficiency as an essential component to a net zero carbon strategy supports the improvement of energy productivity.

11 December 2019

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