Building for Zero, The Grand Challenge of Architecture without Carbon

11 Pages Posted: 11 Oct 2021 Last revised: 4 Nov 2021

See all articles by Ramon Weber

Ramon Weber

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - School of Architecture and Planning

Caitlin Mueller

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Christoph Reinhart

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - School of Architecture and Planning

Date Written: October 8, 2021

Abstract

Almost 40% of global carbon emissions can be attributed to the building sector (Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction 2019). This makes the built environment both a challenge and an opportunity in terms of mitigating climate change. To further understand the implications of global carbon budgets on buildings, housing policy and development, we present an interactive model for carbon emissions from buildings between 2020 and 2050. In our simulation, the user initially chooses one of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Shared Socioeconomical Pathways (SSP) to define a global carbon budget until 2050. Based on this choice, our model presents three alternative scenarios. The “Business as usual” scenario assumes a constant 1% renovation rate for existing buildings and usage of current building standards for new construction. The “Net Zero Operational Carbon” scenario assumes that all new buildings will become net zero in their operation after a user-defined transition period. Finally, the “Net Zero Operational Carbon and Embodied Carbon” scenario assumes that new buildings will become Net Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB) in terms of both, operational and embodied carbon from construction also following a user-defined transition period. For all three scenarios, the model assumes a linear decarbonization of the electric grid until 2050 and current annual emissions of 14.8 GtCO2 for buildings. Global floor areas and operational emissions are based on projections by the International Energy Agency (IEA) (Wörsdörfer et al. 2019). In our research, we find that the retrofit rate must be increased substantially from today’s 1% to around 4-5% and new buildings must be built in a net zero standard by 2040 to meet the climate goals for any SSP. Next to operational carbon emissions, we show how the embodied carbon of buildings has a significant impact on the carbon budget, contributing between 14-46% to building-related carbon emissions by 2050, and is therefore key in achieving net zero building stock.

Keywords: Climate change, carbon, construction, mitigation, embodied, net zero, sustainability, architecture

Suggested Citation

Weber, Ramon and Mueller, Caitlin and Reinhart, Christoph, Building for Zero, The Grand Challenge of Architecture without Carbon (October 8, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3939009 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3939009

Ramon Weber (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - School of Architecture and Planning ( email )

United States

Caitlin Mueller

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
50 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

Christoph Reinhart

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - School of Architecture and Planning ( email )

United States

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