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Strengthening Global Climate Governance and International Cooperation for Energy-Efficient Buildings – New article published in “Energy Efficiency”


The journal Energy Efficiency has published a new paper by NDC ASPECTS partners Wolfgang Obergassel, Chun Xia-Bauer, and Stefan Thomas from the Wuppertal Institute. The paper provides recommendations on how to strengthen global governance and international cooperation to promote energy efficient buildings. The paper builds on a previous project report by NDC ASPECTS assessing sectoral climate governance gaps and policy options.

The buildings sector is one of the main sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions: As of 2019, global GHG emissions from buildings amounted to 12 gigatons of CO2 equivalent emissions, 21 per cent of total global emissions. Energy efficiency is a fundamental lever for emission reductions in the sector. So far, however, energy demand in buildings has continually increased, driven by the growth in floor space in combination with improved energy access and living standards. A rapid turnaround is therefore needed to get onto a Paris-compatible pathway.

In their article, the researchers analyse how global climate governance can contribute to achieving such a rapid turnaround. To this end, the article first synthesises existing literature on emission reduction enablers and barriers as well as existing literature on how global governance may help address these barriers (“governance potential”). On this basis, the article shows to what extent this governance potential has already been activated by existing activities of international institutions. Finally, the article discusses how identified governance gaps can be closed. 

The analysis finds that, despite the local characteristics of the sector, global governance has a number of levers at its disposal that could be used to promote emission reductions through energy efficiency. In particular, overcoming the capacity constraints of developing countries strongly requires enhanced international cooperation. International institutions can also help overcome political inertia and market uncertainty by sending strong signals on the need to act, by helping to coordinate efficiency standards and other policies, and by sector-specific transparency and accountability provisions.

In practice, however, energy efficiency in buildings has been largely neglected at the international level, mirroring inadequate governance practices at the national level for most countries. Lately, though, a number of coalitions demanding stronger action have emerged. Such frontrunners could work through like-minded coalitions and at the same time try to engender stronger cooperation in broader institutions such as the UN climate regime. For example, countries and other actors could adopt targets to decarbonise the buildings sector by a certain date, to phase out fossil heating by a certain date, and scale up technical and financial support for policy development, planning, implementation, evaluation and enforcement capacity of national and local governments in developing countries.