Environment and climate change: Green buildings – the sleeping giant in climate protection

Modern buildings help protect the environment. A look at Ukraine and El Salvador shows us how.

Effective climate protection starts in the building sector, which can yield significant energy and emissions savings.The governments of several countries – including Ukraine and El Salvador – are implementing measures to achieve climate efficiency in new construction and modernisation projects.This helps them reduce costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

Buildings play a crucial role in shaping a low-carbon future. Space heating and cooling, water heating and lighting are among the big fossil fuel consumers worldwide. In 2017, real estate accounted for around one third of global energy consumption and produced 39 per cent of all energy-related CO2 emissions. Global population growth and rising living standards in developing countries are fuelling an increase in consumption. The International Energy Agency estimates that the use of energy for electricity and heating in buildings will double, if not triple, by 2050.

To ensure this does not happen, the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (GlobalABC) was launched in December 2015 at the United Nations Climate Conference, COP 21. This initiative connects governments, the private sector and civil society to foster sustainable construction featuring low-emissions and energy-efficiency. The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH supports several governments with climate-friendly measures for new and old buildings. On behalf of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU), ministries of power and energy, for instance, receive advice on obtaining climate finance and on saving energy in the building sector. The approaches are scaled up through GlobalABC so that even more buildings in the world are modernised or so that buildings can be designed to be climate-friendly prior to construction. 

Effective energy management in Ukrainian municipalities

A look at Ukraine highlights the enormous potential for climate change mitigation in the building sector. On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), GIZ supports around 120 Ukrainian municipalities in saving energy. For example, civil engineers are trained to renovate buildings according to international standards. This has helped reduce annual energy consumption in the municipalities by up to 10 per cent, which translates into energy savings of 50,000 megawatt hours (MWh) – the equivalent of around 1.8 million euros.

In the city of Chernihiv, a school building built in 1932 underwent a thermal rehabilitation process. The installation of thermal windows combined with particularly well-insulated doors, walls and roof pays off: Space and water heating consume around 50 per cent less energy. Almost 165 MWh are saved per year, which corresponds to about EUR 8,250. In comparison: this is as much as eight German single-family homes consume each year for heating. And the environment benefits as well: Carbon emissions are reduced by approximately 43.5 tons each year. That corresponds to the annual carbon footprint of four German citizens. The modernised, energy-efficient building also offers more warmth and comfort. ‘We now have a comfortable work environment and our students learn in warm, bright classrooms that are well insulated from the noise outside,’ says Tatiana Kupets, a primary school teacher in Chernihiv.

Savings and profit for a supermarket chain in El Salvador 

The cleanest and cheapest energy is energy that is not consumed to start with: in El Salvador, the advisory services for Super Selectos, the largest supermarket chain in the country, have resulted in the 83 branches being able to save around 230 tons of carbon annually. Refrigeration and lighting account for most of the energy used in a supermarket.Refrigerants are a significant source of emissions, which are lowered by efficient refrigeration. By optimising the refrigeration systems in the outlets, energy consumption has been reduced and costs have been virtually halved. 

Since 2016, the supermarket chain has built seven new branches. From the outside, there is little difference between the efficient supermarkets and the standard outlets. Yet once inside, the difference is striking: For lighting, Super Selectos uses primarily daylight that enters through glass roof domes. Artificial light is provided by LED lamps which are switched on as and when needed.Photovoltaic systems on the roofs of six of the new stores produce eco-friendly electricity for their own use. With the help of GIZ, the supermarket chain has set new standards in environmental protection and the use of renewable energy. And competitors are now following suit. La Colonia, a supermarket chain in neighbouring Honduras, has been applying similar principles of energy efficiency in its own chain since 2016.Sustainability is increasingly becoming a sales argument and helping enhance the supermarket’s image.

As at: June 2019

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