Zero carbon by 2050 - it applies to building owners and occupiers too

New Zealand has committed at law to reduce net emissions of all greenhouse gases (except biogenic methane) to zero by 2050[1].  Buildings are currently responsible for approximately 20% of our country’s carbon footprint[2].  Significant changes are needed to the way we build and operate buildings to achieve net zero carbon by 2050.  For many New Zealand businesses, from all sectors of the economy, a significant proportion of their carbon emissions come from the buildings that they own or lease. We briefly look at some change leadership relevant to commercial buildings.

Chief executives – collaborate for change

The Climate Leaders Coalition was launched in July 2018 to promote business leadership and collective action on the issue of climate change.  117 chief executives from a cross-section of the New Zealand economy are signatories to a joint Coalition statement which commits the member organisations to take voluntary action on climate change.

The Coalition reports that those organisations together make up 60% of New Zealand’s gross carbon emissions.   Some of the founding signatories are Air New Zealand, IAG, Fonterra, Ngai Tahu, Spark, Westpac, Z Energy, The Warehouse Group and Ports of Auckland.

By being a signatory to the Coalition, member organisations agree to measure their greenhouse gas footprint, adopt targets that will deliver substantial emissions reductions, assess their climate change risks (and publicly disclose them) and proactively support people and suppliers to reduce their emissions.

Examples of carbon emission-reducing steps taken by a number of Coalition organisations are:

  • installing rooftop solar panels on their buildings; and
  • swapping out lights for energy efficient LED bulbs.

New Zealand Green Building Council – calls on owners, developers and tenants to act

Last year the New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC) released ‘A Zero Carbon Road Map for Aotearoa’s Buildings’ which paves a way for net zero carbon buildings to evolve in New Zealand[3].  It explains how net zero carbon buildings will be defined and measured, and identifies significant milestones that the NZGBC believes the government and industry must achieve to decarbonise New Zealand’s buildings.  These include an improved Building Code and significantly increased transparency around the energy-efficiency of buildings.

NZGBC appeals to building owners, developers and tenants to demonstrate their commitment to net zero carbon by doing the following:

  1. Building owners – by assessing (and disclosing) the energy efficiency of their buildings, benchmarking this and managing the reduction of emissions to achieve net zero carbon buildings[4] by 2030.
  2. Building developers – by constructing their new buildings to zero carbon, and with 20% less embodied carbon[5], by 2025.
  3. Tenants – by informing their landlords that they expect the buildings that they occupy under lease to be net zero carbon buildings by 2025.

NZGBC has called for key government ministries and departments to lead a revolutionary shift in green buildings.

Furthermore, last week NZGBC released a list of the worst performing district and regional councils in respect of the energy efficiency of their public buildings.  The findings reveal that some councils continue to burn coal, over 90% have not benchmarked their energy use, and almost a quarter are performing poorly.

In Australia, the owners of large buildings are required to rate and disclose the energy performance of those buildings, and NZGBC is appealing to New Zealand councils to take immediate action by benchmarking and publicly disclosing the performance of their buildings – particularly those councils that have declared a climate emergency.

Green investment bank – makes $100 million available for green projects

At the end of 2019, the government launched a green investment bank called New Zealand Green Investment Finance Ltd (NZGIF) to accelerate investment in projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in New Zealand.

NZGIF has an initial capital of $100 million to co-invest with other investors, on a commercial basis, in projects that have the potential to achieve significant greenhouse gas reductions in the shorter term.

Its mission is to accelerate investment in projects that reduce domestic greenhouse gas emission, by both investing in projects itself and by demonstrating leadership in green investments on a commercial basis.

Building and system energy efficiency is one of the sectors identified by NZGIF as being of primary interest, because this has the potential to achieve significant greenhouse gas reductions in the shorter term.

Climate Change Commission – advises the government on emissions reduction

The Climate Change Commission was established under the ‘Zero Carbon Act’[1] to provide independent, evidence-based advice to the government to help New Zealand transition to a low-emissions and climate-resilient economy.  It will monitor and review the government’s progress towards New Zealand’s emissions reduction and adaptation goals.

It is a new Crown entity, and its Commissioners were announced by the Minister for Climate Change, Hon James Shaw, on 17 December 2019.  While currently in its infancy, this body will no doubt become influential.

Many individual businesses are also paving the way with change leadership initiatives in the property sector.  Look out for more features from us on some of these later this year.



[1] Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019. We have also committed to reducing emissions of biogenic methane to 24-47 per cent below 2017 levels by 2050. 



[4] A net zero carbon building is one that is highly energy efficient with all consumed energy being from renewable sources

[5] Embodied carbon means the carbon footprint of materials, and includes the carbon emissions released throughout the supply chain


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