With the U.S. presidential primary season in full swing, there are plenty of claims being thrown around. On the Republican side, there are 17 candidates. The Democratic side is not as crowded, but it has its own share of hot potatoes. In light of the primary season, this month, I’ll take a swipe at some thoughts about the climate and its relationship to glass and glazing. At this point in the race, I’m not picking a horse – it’s more important to think through the issues.
Zero is the Biggest Number
Lots of scientists argue that stabilizing climate change entails reducing net emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) to zero. If this is true, how can we get there? Will it cost jobs? Will the economy stall or go backward? Where did this target come from?
A new World Bank report detailed the possible pathways to reach carbon neutrality by the end of the century. All of these pathways require acting on four fronts:
(a) decarbonization of electricity;
(b) switch to electrification and grow clean electricity combined with a switch to lower-carbon fuels;
(c) greater efficiency and less waste in all sectors; and
(d) improved carbon sinks (such as forests, vegetation, and soil).
We know from the Passive House Institute that getting to net zero is based on improvements of 75 percent in energy efficiency and 25 percent from site-generated power. (See graphic.) The Passive House standard is the best-known strategy to reduce building energy use by 75 percent. But how did this target get selected and why is it important?
The reason that net zero by 2100 is widely accepted as the target is that global leaders have agreed to stabilize climate change at about 2oC above preindustrial temperatures. While it’s hard to imagine windows and glazing that perform 80 percent better, it is buildings, not windows, that are asked to hit these targets. And glazing has an important role to play to allow buildings to attain these energy efficiency targets. Add in the many benefits of occupant comfort and health attributed to good building design that utilizes high-performance glazing, and that’s a winning package.
The Demand Side
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has projected that if current trends continue as the global population grows from 7 billion in 2010 to more than 9 billion in 2050, per capita consumption will more than triple from about U.S. $6,600 to U.S. $19,700 per year, and global GDP will nearly quadruple, requiring 80 percent more energy.
But wait… How is it possible to reduce carbon consumption by 80 percent by 2050 while expanding energy production by 80 percent – all during the same period? That’s a mind-boggling task! What could be the impact on jobs and growth of these twin developments?
Better Growth = Better Climate?
In the U.S., this topic is very political. Many people, including me, have certain perceptions and conclusions that they bring to these conversations. So I wanted to look outside of the box, and outside the U.S., to see what others are talking about on this topic. Not as a comprehensive summary, but just to gain a different viewpoint and see if there are insights to gain.
The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate constituted The New Climate Economy project in 2013. The Global Commission is an interesting mix of former leaders of government, education, corporations and international agencies from around the world. There are several representatives of major U.S. corporations on the Commission. In 2014, they released “Better Growth Better Climate” and, in 2015, “Seizing the Global Opportunity.”
There is a great deal of valuable information and conclusions to be found in these reports, far too many to list here. A couple of key take-aways and conclusions jump out at me:
- Their 10-point “Global Action Plan” is quite comprehensive and interesting.
- The 2014 report concludes that “countries at all income levels have the opportunity to build lasting economic growth and at the same time reduce the immense risk of climate change. But action is needed now.”
- The 2015 report concludes that “momentum for a low-carbon economy is building, but much more needs to be done. International partnerships can help catalyze economic growth and emissions reductions to get us there.” They provide “10 Key Recommendations” in which partnerships can help deliver better growth and a better climate.”
Let’s hope that we have a robust dialogue about how to prudently move forward on an energy efficiency policy in view of Congressional marking up of bills on this subject, as well as the lively presidential campaign season. Both the quality of our climate and the durable economic growth in the future hang in the balance.