BUILDING LEADERSHIP to inspire a global emission-free building revolution (Post #5 of Building Leadership Series)Read Now
Buildings contribute nearly 40 percent of the global climate pollution, the top contributor to climate change in nearly every other place on earth besides California where it is second only to transportation.
The paradox of addressing climate change is that while the impacts are global, many of the most important efforts to address the challenge must - necessarily - be regional and local. At the same time, no one region will be able to cut enough carbon to mitigate climate impacts on its own. Fighting climate change must be a global effort.
In the earlier blogs in this series we covered the dangers to California and the climate from natural gas and our gas infrastructure, how the unnecessary costs of gas infrastructure is pricing California families out of housing affordability, how the costs of dirty energy - like natural gas or methane - disproportionately impacts poor communities and the public health risks of natural gas. These problems are facing communities around the world.
My message to Gov. Newsom is that, in our effort to cut emissions from buildings - making them healthier and cleaner, we can inspire, lead and supply a global movement.
California can and must do this for two main reasons: (1) our state is extremely vulnerable to climate change and therefore we need the rest of the world to rapidly reduce climate pollution and (2) we have more climate experience, leadership and industries than any other entity to offer to the world.
Prioritizing building climate solutions that we can export requires that Gov. Newsom make California a role model by adopting solutions that can be mimicked in other areas as well as creating a platform from which to engage and push other states and countries on achievements in this sector.
A state leadership roadmap
To eliminate emissions from California’s building stock on a pace to meet our clean energy goals, Governor Newsom will need to lead an effort that will involve many stakeholders and fast action. He will need to align disparate government agencies and their policies and provide clear market signals to businesses and investors so they can invest accordingly.
First and foremost, he will need to get the State government moving in one direction. California policy should harmonize around a goal of zero emissions for all buildings, new and existing. All state funding programs for buildings, such as bonds and grants to local governments, should fund emission free projects. In terms of timing the state should require all new homes and commercial buildings be built emission free by the middle of the 2020’s. To get there will require both investment and incentives.
California is already investing over $1 billion a year in energy efficiency. These funds should be opened up for emission free construction and retrofits. We will need electrical rates that favor the use of clean electricity over natural gas, like we’ve done for electric vehicles to displace gasoline models. The state should use it’s powerful purchasing clout to buy bulk amounts of clean heating technology that local governments, low-income housing builders and others would be able to access. The state should build off of it’s successes, like the California Solar Initiative (CSI), and send a clear, unambiguous market signal by adopting a new zero emission building funding program, combining attractive incentives with low-cost, easy to access financing that makes the transition a no-brainer for builders, installers and consumers. When we followed that recipe for solar we changed the world. We can do it again for buildings.
Building the clean building industry
Inspiring demand and leadership from those outside of government, utilities, labor, builders, manufacturers, real estate, finance and local government, is essential to meeting our goals, as well as igniting a global movement.
Taking another lesson from CSI, where the state helped build and grow businesses in the solar industry, we need to make emission-free buildings the more profitable and easier to install option for builders and installers.
We have discussed in this series that it is already cheaper to build an emission-free home when compared to the cost of piping in gas and installing fossil-fuel run appliances. However, because of the need for rapid climate solution deployment, we must capture significant market share fast so the value proposition for builders and installers must leave no doubt in their choice to pass on gas. Robust incentives, accessible financing, wide-scale consumer education, workforce training and regulatory streamlining will all be needed to help our builders and installers make the transition to emission free construction.
Transitioning fairly and safely
Moving quickly from gas to clean electricity to heat our buildings means there will be great upheaval in an arguably institutional industry. The gas industry and its infrastructure, while it creates a lot of problems, also supports individuals with jobs and enjoys large investments from utilities.
In this transition we must address these stranded assets and jobs. We have to treat every worker in the gas industry fairly and every ratepayer justly and equitably. To ensure that the movement off of gas is done in the right way, respectful of all parties, responsible to commitments entered into, beneficial to the environment and our working men and women, the Governor should direct the California Public Utilities Commission to open a proceeding to develop and implement a just and safe transition away from legacy infrastructure that is undermining the state’s progress toward essential climate and energy goals.
Inspiring global investor confidence
All of the above solutions should help set Governor Newsom on a path to engage the rest of the world in moving away from polluting homes and buildings to create clean, healthy cities and communities and address the great climate challenge. Whether it is the millions of new buildings being built across Asia or the existing buildings of Europe, this sector will need to be emission free if we are to avoid the worst impacts climate change, which we already experiencing here in California.
The economic development and partnership opportunities that will arise from this space will boost California’s economy as manufacturers and financial communities share solutions and consistent approaches to deploy capital at scale. Investor confidence in California and other major economies addressing the building sector in a standardized, transparent and ambitious way will bring about the type of capital that we need to put us on a path toward reaching our clean energy goals.
To motivate capital and inspire investment, the Governor should expand upon the Pacific Coast Collaborative’s work on emission free buildings and engage with other states to lower costs and increase market share for critical technologies, like heat pumps. Leadership specifications, workforce protections, procurement partnerships, shared markets, data exchanges and gubernatorial competitions have all been effective in speeding up market transformation in the past and the governor can lead a new round of these activities with like-minded states and governments.
Right Guy at the Right Time
Unchecked climate change will be a catastrophe for the citizens of California, with low-income and marginalized populations suffering the most. The state-produced Fourth Climate Change Assessment suggests that the climate threats California will face could be even worse than previously thought.
Gov. Newsom understands this. California cannot afford a worsening climate and we must move quickly to reduce emissions on a global scale. This means he must employ an all-hands on deck approach to establishing California’s leadership role in reducing emissions beyond our borders. Buildings are California’s second leading polluter and the rest of the world’s top contributor. We must set the bar high for this sector and develop best practices with which to engage the world.
Governor Newsom is taking this office at the perfect time to lead on clean, healthy, emissions -free homes and buildings. His blend of business, environment and social welfare experience and principles, coupled with audacious vision, make him the right man for this moment. Lead on Governor!
Panama Bartholomy is the Director of the Building Decarbonization Coalition.