IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change

Mitigation technologies and practices

Measures to reduce GHG emissions from buildings fall into one of three categories: 1) reducing energy consumption[13] and embodied energy in buildings; 2) switching to low-carbon fuels, including a higher share of renewable energy; 3) controlling emissions of non-CO2 GHG gases. Many current technologies allow building energy consumption to be reduced through better thermal envelopes[14], improved design methods and building operations, more efficient equipment,and reductions in demand for energy services. The relative importance of heating and cooling depends on climate and thus varies regionally, while the effectiveness of passive design techniques also depends on climate, with important distinctions between hot-humid and hot-arid regions. Occupant behaviour, including avoiding unnecessary operation of equipment and adaptive rather than invariant temperature standards for heating and cooling, is also a significant factor in limiting building energy use (high agreement, much evidence) [6.4].

Mitigation potential of the building sector

Substantial CO2 emission reduction from energy use in buildings can be achieved over the coming years compared with projected emissions. The considerable experience in a wide variety of technologies, practices and systems for energy efficiency and an equally rich experience with policies and programmes that promote energy efficiency in buildings lend considerable confidence to this view. A significant portion of these savings can be achieved in ways that reduce life-cycle costs, thus providing reductions in CO2 emissions that have a net negative cost (generally higher investment cost but lower operating cost) (high agreement, much evidence) [6.4; 6.5].

These conclusions are supported by a survey of 80 studies (Table TS.5), which show that efficient lighting technologies are among the most promising GHG-abatement measures in buildings in almost all countries, in terms of both cost-effectiveness and potential savings. By 2020, approximately 760 Mt of CO2 emissions can be abated by the adoption of least life-cycle cost lighting systems globally, at an average cost of -160 US$/tCO2 (i.e., at a net economic benefit). In terms of the size of savings, improved insulation and district heating in the colder climates and efficiency measures related to space cooling and ventilation in the warmer climates come first in almost all studies, along with cooking stoves in developing countries. Other measures that rank high in terms of savings potential are solar water heating, efficient appliances and energy-management systems.

Table TS.5: GHG emissions reduction potential for the buildings stock in 2020a [Table 6.2].

Economic region Countries/country groups reviewed for region Potential as % of national baseline for buildingsb Measures covering the largest potential Measures providing the cheapest mitigation options 

Developed countries


USA, EU-15, Canada, Greece, Australia, Republic of Korea, United Kingdom, Germany, Japan




Economic (<US$ 0/tCO2-eq):





1. Shell retrofit, inc. insulation, esp. windows and walls;

2. Space heating systems;

3. Efficient lights, especially shift to compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) and efficient ballasts.


1. Appliances such as efficient TVs and peripherals (both on-mode and standby), refrigerators and freezers, ventilators and air-conditioners;

2. Water heating equipment;

3. Lighting best practices.


Economies in Transition


Hungary, Russia, Poland, Croatia, as a group: Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Malta, Cyprus, Poland, the Czech Republic




Economic (<US$ 0/tCO2eq):





1. Pre- and post- insulation and replacement of building components, esp. windows;

2. Efficient lighting, esp. shift to CFLs;

3. Efficient appliances such as refrigerators and water heaters.


1. Efficient lighting and its controls;

2. Water and space heating control systems;

3. Retrofit and replacement of building components, esp. windows.


Developing countries


Myanmar, India, Indonesia, Argentine, Brazil, China, Ecuador, Thailand, Pakistan, South Africa




Economic (<US$ 0/tCO2eq):





1. Efficient lights, esp. shift to CFLs, light retrofit, and kerosene lamps;

2. Various types of improved cooking stoves, esp. biomass stoves, followed by LPG and kerosene stoves;

3. Efficient appliances such as air-conditioners and refrigerators.


1. Improved lights, esp. shift to CFLs light retrofit, and efficient kerosene lamps;

2. Various types of improved cooking stoves, esp. biomass based, followed by kerosene stoves;

3. Efficient electric appliances such as refrigerators and air-conditioners.



a) Except for EU-15, Greece, Canada, India, and Russia, for which the target year was 2010, and Hungary, Ecuador and South Africa, for which the target was 2030.

b) The fact that the market potential is higher than the economic potential for developed countries is explained by limitation of studies considering only one type of potential, so information for some studies likely having higher economic potential is missing.

c) Both for 2010, if the approximate formula of Potential 2020 = 1 – ( 1 – Potential 2010)20/10 is used to extrapolate the potential as percentage of the baseline into the future (the year 2000 is assumed as a start year), this interval would be 38%–79%.

d) Both for 2010, if suggested extrapolation formula is used, this interval would be 22%–44%.

e) The last figure is for 2010, corresponds to 72% in 2020 if the extrapolation formula is used.

f) The first figure is for 2010, corresponds to 24% in 2020 if the extrapolation formula is used.

As far as cost effectiveness is concerned, efficient cooking stoves rank second after lighting in developing countries, while the measures in second place in the industrialized countries differ according to climatic and geographic region. Almost all the studies examining economies in transition (typically in cooler climates) found heating-related measures to be the most cost effective, including insulation of walls, roofs, windows and floors, as well as improved heating controls for district heating. In developed countries, appliance-related measures are typically identified as the most cost-effective, with upgrades of cooling-related equipment ranking high in warmer climates. Air-conditioning savings can be more expensive than other efficiency measures but can still be cost-effective, because they tend to displace more expensive peak power.

In individual new buildings, it is possible to achieve 75% or more energy savings compared with recent current practice, generally at little or no extra cost. Realizing these savings requires an integrated design process involving architects, engineers, contractors and clients, with full consideration of opportunities for passively reducing the energy demands of buildings [6.4.1].

Addressing GHG mitigation in buildings in developing countries is of particular importance. Cooking stoves can be made to burn more efficiently and combust particles more completely, thus benefiting village dwellers through improved indoor-air quality, while reducing GHG emissions. Local sources of improved, low GHG materials can be identified. In urban areas, and increasingly in rural ones, there is a need for all the modern technologies used in industrialized countries to reduce GHG emissions [6.4.3].

Emerging areas for energy savings in commercial buildings include the application of controls and information technology to continuously monitor, diagnose and communicate faults in commercial buildings (‘intelligent control’); and systems approaches to reduce the need for ventilation, cooling, and dehumidification. Advanced windows, passive solar design, techniques for eliminating leaks in buildings and ducts, energy-efficient appliances, and controlling standby and idle power consumption as well as solid-state lighting are also important in both residential and commercial sectors (high agreement, much evidence) [6.5].

Occupant behaviour, culture and consumer choice and use of technologies are major determinants of energy use in buildings and play a fundamental role in determining CO2 emissions. However, the potential reduction through non-technological options is rarely assessed and the potential leverage of policies over these is poorly understood (high agreement, medium evidence).

There are opportunities to reduce direct emissions of fluorinated gases in the buildings sector significantly through the global application of best practices and recovery methods, with mitigation potential for all F-gases of 0.7 GtCO2-eq in 2015. Mitigation of halocarbon refrigerants mainly involves avoiding leakage from air conditioners and refrigeration equipment (e.g., during normal use, maintenance and at end of life) and reducing the use of halocarbons in new equipment. A key factor determining whether this potential will be realized is the costs associated with implementation of the measures to achieve the emission reduction. These vary considerably, from a net benefit to 300 US$/tCO2-eq. (high agreement, much evidence) [6.5].

Mitigation potential of the building sector

There is a global potential to reduce approximately 30% of the projected baseline emissions from the residential and commercial sectors cost effectively by 2020 (Table TS.6). At least a further 3% of baseline emissions can be avoided at costs up to 20 US$/tCO2-eq and 4% more if costs up to 100 US$/tCO2-eq are considered. However, due to the large opportunities at low costs, the high-cost potential has only been assessed to a limited extent, and thus this figure is an underestimate. Using the global baseline emission projections for buildings[15], these estimates represent a reduction of about 3.2, 3.6, and 4.0 Gtons of CO2-eq in 2020, at zero, 20 US$/tCO2-eq, and 100 US$/tCO2-eq, respectively (high agreement, much evidence) [6.5].

Table TS.6: Global CO2 mitigation potential projections for 2020, as a function of costs [Table 6.3].

World regions Baseline emissions in 2020 CO2 mitigation potentials as share of the baseline CO2 emission projections in cost categories in 2020 (costs in US$/tCO2-eq) CO2 mitigation potentials in absolute values in cost categories in 2020, GtCO2-eq (costs in US$/tCO2-eq) 
GtCO2-eq <0 0-20 20-100 <100 <0 0-20 20-100 <100 
Globe 11.1 29% 3% 4% 36% 3.2 0.35 0.45 4.0 
OECD (-EIT) 4.8 27% 3% 2% 32% 1.3 0.10 0.10 1.6 
EIT 1.3 29% 12% 23% 64% 0.4 0.15 0.30 0.85 
Non-OECD 5.0 30% 2% 1% 32% 1.5 0.10 0.05 1.6 

Note: The aggregated global potential as a function of cost and region is based on 17 studies that reported potentials in detail as a function of costs.

The real potential is likely to be higher, because not all end-use efficiency options were considered by the studies; non-technological options and their often significant co-benefits were omitted as were advanced integrated high-efficiency buildings. However, the market potential is much smaller than the economic potential.

Given limited information for 2030, the 2020 findings for the economic potential to 2030 have been extrapolated to enable comparisons with other sectors. The estimates are given in Table TS.7. Extrapolation of the potentials to 2030 suggests that, globally, about 4.5, 5.0 and 5.6 GtCO2-eq/yr could be reduced at costs of <0, <20 and <100 US$/tCO2-eq respectively. This is equivalent to 30, 35, and 40% of the projected baseline emissions. These figures are associated with significantly lower levels of certainty than the 2020 ones due to very limited research available for 2030 (medium agreement, low evidence).

Table TS.7: Global CO2 mitigation potential projections for 2030, as a function of cost, based on extrapolation from the 2020 numbers, in GtCO2 [Table 6.4].

Mitigation option Region Baseline projections in 2030 Potential costs at below 100 US$/tCO2-eq Potential in different cost categories 
<0 US$/tCO2 0-20 US$/tCO2 20-100 US$/tCO2 
Low High <0 US$/tC 0-73 US$/tC 73-367 US$/tC 
Electricity savingsa) OECD 3.4 0.75 0.95 0.85 0.0 0.0 
EIT 0.40 0.15 0.20 0.20 0.0 0.0 
Non-OECD/EIT 4.5 1.7 2.4 1.9 0.1 0.1 
Fuel savings OECD 2.0 1.0 1.2 0.85 0.2 0.1 
EIT 1.0 0.55 0.85 0.20 0.2 0.3 
Non-OECD/EIT 3.0 0.70 0.80 0.65 0.1 0.0 
Total OECD 5.4 1.8 2.2 1.7 0.2 0.1 
EIT 1.4 0.70 1.1 0.40 0.2 0.3 
Non-OECD/EIT 7.5 2.4 3.2 2.5 0.1 0.0 
Global 14.3 4.8 6.4 4.5 0.5 0.7 


a) The absolute values of the potentials resulting from electricity savings in Table TS.8 and Chapter 11, Table 11.3 do not coincide due to application of different baselines; however, the potential estimates as percentage of the baseline are the same in both cases. Also Table 11.3 excludes the share of emission reductions which is already taken into account by the energy supply sector, while Table TS.7 does not separate this potential.

The outlook for the long-term future, assuming options in the building sector with a cost up to US$ 25/tCO2-eq, identifies a potential of about 7.7 GtCO2eq reductions in 2050.

  1. ^  This counts all forms of energy use in buildings, including electricity.
  2. ^  The term ‘thermal envelope’ refers to the shell of a building as a barrier to unwanted heat or mass transfer between the interior of the building and outside.
  3. ^  The baseline CO2 emission projections were calculated on the basis of the 17 studies used for deriving the global potential (if a study did not contain a baseline, projections from another national mitigation report were used).