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The easiest way to curb carbon emissions begins with Zero-Energy Buildings: a message that UN climate talks can't ignore

By       Message Eduardo Reisinho     Permalink
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We now possess the elements we need to curb CO2 emissions and stop climate change. It involves a strategy combining 1) Zero-Energy Buildings and solar-photovoltaic power, 2) huge energy-efficiency improvements in our industries, and 3) electric vehicles.

The increasing of CO2 emissions is a long-term structural trend that has not been reversed in the last decade. On the contrary.

According to the European Commission Edgar 2013 report, global emissions from the combustion of coal, oil, gas and cement have risen from 22,6 billion tons to 34,5 billion tons, between 1992 and 2012 -- an increase of about 50%.

In other words: we are not getting it; CO2 emissions are rising sharply, not falling. We are wrecking the climate, and we have to change our approach and mindsets.

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"Decarbonizing" the energy system is obviously complicated and involves mostly the largest economies: the US, China and European countries. These countries represent roughly 60% of carbon emissions coming from energy consumption. See the table below (CIA Factbook data, compiled by House-energy.com).


CO2 emissions from energy consumption
(Image by House energy)
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The world is too dependent on coal, but zero-carbon electricity is within our reach. Solar photovoltaic can be massively installed on buildings, and is already cost-competitive in large-scale projects. Large companies such as Google, Walmart or Apple are installing large arrays of solar-photovoltaic panels on their facilities, all without any state subsidies.

Homes and other buildings are, in a way, the key element for a successful decarbonization of our energy and economy systems. Buildings are responsible for about 43% of global energy consumption and greenhouse gases, ahead of the transportation sector or industry.

And it doesn't have to be this way any more. New buildings can be zero-energy without any technological breakthrough (the EU Directive 2010/31/EU determines that by 31 December 2020 all new buildings will be nearly zero-energy-consumption buildings, and that public buildings should comply with the same criteria by 2018); properly insulated, designed and oriented to the sun, and equipped with solar-photovoltaic systems and energy-efficient windows, buildings can produce all the energy they consume, freeing up huge amounts of electricity for the industry and the future electric-vehicle grid.

Zero-carbon electricity is within our reach, and that makes the reversing of CO2 emissions possible. The changes aren't primarily technological, in the short term. The most important changes are behavioral, political and regulatory.


A message that should not be forgotten by the negotiators of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, to be held in Paris, in 2015. We need to quickly reverse carbon emissions, to prevent the catastrophe described in the House-Energy infographic shown below.

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I am an economist specialized in energy issues. I am the founder of House-energy.com site (and the portuguese version GuiaCasaEficiente.com).

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The easiest way to curb carbon emissions begins with Zero-Energy Buildings: a message that UN climate talks can't ignore