Tracking Progress: Buildings


A growing number of countries have put in place policies to improve building energy performance, but average energy consumption per person in the global buildings sector still remains practically unchanged since 1990. Assertive action is needed now across all countries to improve global average energy use per capita by at least 10% by 2025 using energy-efficient and low-carbon building technologies.

Recent trends

Global building-related CO2 emissions have continued to rise by nearly 1% per year since 2010. Coal and oil use in buildings has remained fairly constant since then, while natural gas use grew steadily by about 1% per year. Global use of electricity in buildings grew on average by 2.5% per year since 2010, and in non-OECD countries it increased by nearly 6% per year. That growth is significantly faster than the 0.5% average annual improvement in global CO2 intensity per kilowatt hour of electricity since 2010.

Global buildings sector energy intensity (measured by final energy per square metre) fell by 1.3% per year between 2010 and 2014, thanks to continued adoption and enforcement of building energy codes and efficiency standards. Yet progress has not been fast enough to offset growth in floor area (3% per year globally) and increasing demand for energy services in buildings.

More telling is energy demand per capita, where global average building energy use per person has remained practically constant since 1990, at just less than 5 MWh per person per year. In OECD countries, average energy consumption per person started to fall from a peak of 12 MWh in 2010, but this decline may be partly explained by warmer winters in recent years, as space heating accounts for 45% of OECD building final energy use. In non-OECD countries, average building energy use per capita continued to grow by around 1% per year since 2000.

To meet 2DS targets, average building energy use per person globally needs to fall by at least 10% to less than 4.5 MWh by 2025. OECD countries in particular need to shift away from historical trends and bring average energy use per capita below 1990 levels through rapid energy efficiency action. In non-OECD countries, where energy access and economic development are equally important priorities (among others), effort is needed to deploy energy-efficient and low-carbon building technologies to meet a rapidly growing demand for energy services without following an unsustainable pathway towards high building energy consumption per person. 

Tracking progress

Current policies and investments in building energy efficiency are not on track to achieve 2DS targets. Nearly two-thirds of countries still do not have any building energy codes in place. A similar share of energy-consuming equipment in buildings globally is not covered by mandatory energy efficiency policies.

Some progress towards realising the untapped potential in the global buildings sector has been seen since the Paris Agreement in 2015. Nearly 90 countries have registered building actions in their NDCs. More than 3 000 city-level and 500 private sector building commitments have also been registered under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. A number of industry and professional bodies have also mobilised to support market development of high-performance buildings, including initiatives to implement net-zero/carbon-neutral building programmes.

Recommended actions

Concerted global effort is needed to rapidly expand, strengthen and enforce building energy policies across all countries to prevent the lock-in of long-lived, inefficient building investments. Transitions to a 2DS pathway will require clear and consistent signals, along with incentives and appropriate financing mechanisms, to drive consumers and manufacturers to maximise energy efficiency opportunities. Educational programmes, training and capacity building, and better building energy data can also help improve energy efficiency policy design, adoption and enforcement.

Significant effort is needed in the coming decade to leapfrog best practices and high-performance technologies to developing countries. Greater access to finance is also critical to increase efficiency investments in both non-OECD and in OECD countries. Lastly, much greater effort is needed to address energy performance of existing buildings, especially in OECD countries.


Published: 16 May 2017

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