CEU Professor Presents at Copenhagen Climate Summit

Among political decision-makers and leading scientists from around the world, Diana Ürge-Vorsatz, Director, Center for Climate Change and Sustainable Enegry (3CSEP), CEU / Professor, Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy, CEU / Lead Expert, 2007 Nobel Peace Prize co-winning IPCC) presented at the COP15 Climate Summit in Copenhagen, contributing to "Construction Counts for Climate", a COP15 side event on low carbon policies for buildings and construction—a sector offering great potential for carbon mitigation, given that almost 40 percent of all energy is consumed in buildings.

Following talks by Jan Vapaavuori, Finland's Minister for Housing, and UN Under-Secretary General Achim Steiner , Professor Ürge-Vorsatz presented the latest research results on the climate role of construction and refurbishment, to international policymakers. In her presentation: “Buildings: how far can they take us in mitigating climate change?” she posited that buildings are perhaps the key in reaching ambitious climate change targets. She further claimed that few sectors can deliver the magnitude of emission reduction the world needs for low-tempeture climate stabilization as much as construction, a fact that had already been proven in the past. Professor Ürge-Vorsatz explained that construction and architectural know-how has advanced recently and thus 60-90% of energy savings are possible in all climate zones, compared to standard practice. She also shared some other interesting findings: according to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), in 2030 globally the share of building-related emissions will remain at approximately one-third of energy-related CO2, contributing to the fact that the buildings sector offers the largest low cost potential in all world regions [by 2030]. In connection with health-related issues, Professor Ürge-Vorsatz stated that up to 2 million people die each year in the world due to poor indoor air quality, and also that better buildings also serve to reduce flu by up to 20% (resulting in EUR 10 bln/yr savings in US alone).

After explaining the opportunities, Professor Ürge-Vorsatz in addition put great emphasis on a risk factor, the so-called “lock-in effect.” This means that when buildings are not renovated according to the state of the art (suboptimal retrofits), this “locks us into” a high-emission future for many decades. For instance, many renovations in Hungary are saving around or maximum 30% of energy, however, if used with the best-practice methods for keeping climate mitigation in mind, the amount of energy savings could be raised to 85%. Such improper renovations in terms of climate change carry the danger of locking in 40% of 2005 emissions by 2050, jeopardizing [our] ability to meet the approx. 80% target [we] will likely need to achieve by this year. This situation “locks the world into a high climate footprint future,”- as she put it.

Professor Ürge-Vorsatz finished the presentation with some positive developments regarding policies for a low-carbon built environment, such as the new scenarios constructed under the Global Energy Assessment (GEA). With co-funding from the UNEP SBCI (United Nations Environmental Program for Sustainable Buildings and Climate Change Initiative), the mitigation potential assessment reflects a new approach in which buildings are considered as complex systems rather than independent sums of components. Therefore, after a decade of transition of the construction field, significant energy costs could be saved, which would be an asset for Hungary as well, where 50% of all emissions come from buildings.

The webcast of the event is available on http://www.se2009.eu/1.26268 along with the presentation of Professor Ürge-Vorsatz.