UN Lists Passive House Standard and Path to Reduced Emissions
By Tad Everhart

We must urgently cut another 25% from predicted 2030 emissions, and Passive House can help according to UN Environment’s 2016 “Emissions Gap Report.”

Each year since 2010, the UN Environment program publishes a “Gap Report” about the gulf between emission levels heating the planet 1.5 degrees C and the predicted levels.  At this time, predicted levels heat the biosphere 2.9 - 3.4° C by 2100.

“We are moving in the right direction: the Paris Agreement will slow climate change, as will the recent Kigali Amendment to reduce HFCs,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment. “They both show strong commitment, but it's still not good enough if we are to stand a chance of avoiding serious climate change.”

“If we don’t start taking additional action now, . . . we will grieve over the avoidable human tragedy.”

“The growing numbers of climate refugees hit by hunger, poverty, illness and conflict will be a constant reminder of our failure to deliver. The science shows that we need to move much faster.”

Although the UN advocated the Passive House Standard in its chapter 9 on emissions from buildings in the IPCC 5th Assessment report in 2013, this is the first time the UN has recommended Passive House in its Gap Reports saying, “In terms of energy performance, one of the most ambitious building energy certification schemes is the so-called ‘Passive House’ standard.”  It noted the global floor area of Passive Houses has grown from 10 million square meters in 2010 to 46 million square meters in 2016.  And that in several countries, there is no price premium compared to standard construction.

Contributing author Professor Diana Urge-Vorsatz noted that one reason the IPCC and 2016 Gap Report emphasized the Standard is because of the inherent savings of passive buildings.  Interviewed by Lenny Antonelli for passivehouse+ magazine, Professor Urge-Vorsatz explained, “’Once you have built it, it’s low tech.’”

At the same time, Professor Urge-Vorsatz criticized partial retrofits (e.g., drill & fill wall cavity insulation and adding attic insulation) explaining that they don’t nearly reduce energy consumption as far as practical, and make it less likely that the building will ever receive the necessary deep energy retrofit.  “’I am fully convinced these initiatives are more detrimental than good.  You really have to go for deep retrofits.’”

See page 10, passivehouse+ issue 19 for more of Lenny Antonelli’s interview.  Passivehouse+ magazine is available electronically for $12 USD per year (6 issues).  All 18 past issues are available at no cost from passivehouse+.