the Graz declaration: a amendment proposal

Next week, the world sustainable built environment conference was planned, from 9-11 June, in Gothenburg, Sweden. It has been put on hold since early March, due to Covid-19 virus of course. It probably will be postponed or become a virtual conference, but since Sweden has enough trouble from itself currently, we will just wait until they recover, and have sorted out things.

In the mean time, we should not stop debating , the climate problem is too urgent for that. For that reason attention for a  interesting and important declaration, that was meant to be a highlight during the conference in Gothenburg: The Graz declaration , which calls for the delivery of a carbon neutral built environment. [1] [2]

It was discussed and written during the Graz conference on sustainable built environment last year, one of the regional conferences building up to the world conference of next week. A lot of work and discussion was put in, and many highly valued colleagues took part in that.

It states in summary that

– Legally binding international, national and local requirements shall be put in place and respect and include scientifically-based GHG-emission targets to stay within a 1.5°C increase.

– have clearly defined timeframes in order to deliver net-zero GHG-emission levels by or before the middle of this century.

As a matter of urgency and to avoid lock-in effects, binding requirements must be introduced by 2025 due to the built environment’s long lifespan and impacts.

– It is necessary to limit both resource use and GHG-emissions over the full life cycle. The regulation of life-cycle related GHG-emissions must therefore cover the production, construction, operation, maintenance, replacement, refurbishment and end of life of buildings.

And further calls upon research community, professionals, education, to act upon this.

Now whats the point…?

The point is, I support The Graz declaration, of course. However, I did not sign it.

After it was drafted, I thought about it seriously, but then came to the conclusion that its not ambitious enough. Signing would suggest that it’s enough, that the measures and strategies listed would do the job. But it isn’t enough. We would be neglecting our own conclusions during workshops in the past conferences, that there need to be done much more. At least that’s my conclusion from those discussions and findings, for what its worth. Here is my arguing and my amendments for the Graz declaration, since the Graz declaration was supposed to be proposed and discussed in Gothenburg next week, and we can still continue with the debate online…

As there is:

  • net 0-emission levels by mid century is by far not enough. As concluded in a recent workshop, new building should already today meet net zero standards , to not compromise remaining CO2 emissions budget needed for adapting the existing building stock. [3]

  • Notwithstanding the fact that there is not yet agreement about dividing remaining emissions by country or per sector and to what extend, binding requirements by 2025 is much too late. When using for example a fair share per country and pro rato per sector, the Netherlands will have exhausted its 1,5 degree share by 2025…. Having targets set by 2025 is therefor useless. The same for many other industrialized countries.

  • If operational energy demand for buildings will be supplied by renewable sources, with net 0-emissions, there will be no related net-emissions anymore to energy demand. The only emissions will come from material production: for construction, or for energy supply devices ( wind turbines, solar panels etc). And these emissions, embodied emissions, have no lifespan relation, they are immediate. [4]

  • We already know that reduction of emissions is not enough, we know that meeting the needs of future generations is only possible with renewable materials. Lets name things: with the previous remarks in mind as well, the construction sector should switch immediately and completely to biobased ie renewable materials, while staying within sustainable limits of availability of renewable resources. [5]

Therefor I would like to propose to amend the Graz declaration:

Targets will have to be set as soon as possible, therefor I propose to add and set the following targets as by agreement during WSBE 2020 in Gothenburg:

  • All new buildings should be net zero operational emission buildings , as from today.

  • The building and construction sector switches to the exclusive use of biobased and renewable materials, as of this year,

  • With all buildings being net-0 energy (operational), embodied energy related emissions must be compensated by CO2 stored in construction materials and/or compensated by a surplus in building related renewable energy generation (within 10 years at the most).

And regarding existing buildings:

– Within 5 years , all existing buildings in industrialized countries must have reduced their operational energy by 50%, to flatten the CO2 curve, and create time to implement the step towards 100 % emission free operational energy.

-emissions from materials invested to establish the 50 or 100% goal, may not exceed the accumulated emission reductions from operational energy in the first 5 years.

Of course, as planned this is for discussion.

Ronald Rovers, June 2020 (see later added annex below)







Annex : We need a immediate lockdown of building industry…

Following my proposed amendment for the Graz declaration, as I highlighted in the above article, this leads to some serious questions, or better: conclusions. Supposing I worded it in the right way, and debate with colleagues would confirm my conclusions form past conferences and workshops, in that case drastic measures are needed immediately to limit the damage that will occur if further measures are postponed or delayed. Any new building today, that is not net 0-CO2 emissions, is an offense to all people working hard to limit the impact of climate change, and will compromise abilities by future generations to have the same choices as we have today. ( Brundtland) . The lives of many will be put upside down, when heating hits, when droughts occur, stormy weather destroys communities, and famine will cause large migration movements around the world. Disrupting economies, increase violent confrontations for food, water and space to live. In that respect the current turmoil over racism is just a wrinkle in society, a battle ( however serious and understandable) within the species itself. But what we face is a battle for the species as a whole to survive, and to maintain a reasonable level of lifestyle and welfare.

What we see now, with many political leaders acting controversial, to protect country and borders, to claim and develop supply routes , to grab land, to ‘tack back control’ , is just a sign of the beginning of protectionism and fights for a larger share of energy, food resources, which are all up to limits and geographically uneven distributed.

Those drastic measures required are all well known, shift to a mainly vegetarian diet, limit travel by car and airplanes etc, etc, but when I look at the sector I am most familiar with, the built environment, its clear that we should stop construction of new building immediately. The building sector is responsible for around 40% of CO2 emissions. In the first place, all emissions from producing building, materials, and products for construction, have emissions production that already have been released. There is no delay in that. And secondly, when not designed or operated a net 0 energy buildings they will remain emitting CO2 for decades to come, until the whole energy supply system is transformed for renewable energy. Which is not a free ride, many materials with emissions will have to be put in place to generate and distribute that renewable energy. That implies any way that new buildings can’t be operated in the same way as we have done the past decades.

And yes, that will compromise comfort. At least: which comfort? The comfort of the past 40 or 50 years. Not the historical comfort of hundreds of years before that. Our comfort of the past decades was an illusion, a decadency , feasting on the stocks that have been building up in the past and feasting with the potentials of future generations.

Unless the building sector has developed a decent protocol how to construct without causing CO2 emissions, construction should be forbidden.

Not in the last place to not burden the possibilities of adapting the existing stock, for which still some measures which will cause CO2 emissions might be needed. But also here the remaining budgets are not enough to think of large scale make over with high tech technology sprinkled over the built environment. Also for existing buildings a immediate limit on energy supplied is required, to save the budget, and gain time to make a plan to retrofit or reorganize the building stock to work with very low CO2 emissions related interventions.

So also here: its required to cut of supply above a certain level per m2 of floor. Or make the the prices for energy rise extreme progressively for each extra 100 kWh.

Last but not least, any solutions, or future construction, be it new building or retrofit, should be based on renewable materials.

Its a farce to think that we can continue using large amount of steel, aluminum and even concrete, in a world that has to operate without CO2 emissions. The idea that you can apply steel in circular way is nonsense, if at the same time the sector states that its not renewable and we have to live with that fact. That makes any reference to circular a farce. Same for other metals and many minerals. And I not even include the relation with large amounts of water [1]

But even with renewable materials, or biobased materials we have to be careful. Nothing is for free, an we can only use as much as is yearly added to the global stock, on the basis of solar input and photosynthesis, and related system potentials (for instance the water cycle induced by solar energy, an have some hydro-power based on gravity due to the same sun induced water cycle, etc)

And money? Or economy?: that’s likes the clothes of the emperor . We have been using money, unfunded on any physical rule to create an enormous debt in global resource stocks. [2] Which we will have to pay back in one way or another, or the system will correct us the hard way. So we skip money, and start valuing real potentials, or at least for the moment put an enormous price on CO2 to show we take our responsibility. At the same time is clear that land is our most crucial resource, the intermediate between sun and life on earth, as where the bio-ecological processes have to take place. Its land that will have to become the common good, restored as the real capital of the people and communities to secure and support their living and life , and with their own labor to use it in a sustainable way.

Its the only way to have any chance to stay within CO2 emissions budgets, and within bio-ecologic regenerative potentials, and have any chance to avoid the most scary scenarios, and save some living space for our children and future generations.

That occurred to me after rereading what I wrote last time (above) , and draw conclusions from that.

21 june 2020

[1] From elite folk science to the policy legend of the circular economy

[2] “Money makes the world go round…” , but also: “Money makes the earth go broke…” ,
episode 8 , by “The Island Observer” , after the book: People vsResources. , full series:

Author: ronald rovers