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Mayors Can Lead on Climate Action With Better Energy Codes


Cities are the first line of defense to protect their citizens, businesses, and buildings from the harmful effects of climate change. From the “We Are Still In” campaign committing to the goals of the Paris climate accord, to adopting goals to use 100 percent renewable energy, cities and their mayors are leading the way in these crucial efforts. America’s mayors have yet another opportunity to demonstrate climate and energy leadership this week by signing a resolution supporting steady improvements to the building energy codes. The ultimate goal is a model energy code with buildings that use zero net energy, by first making buildings extremely efficient and then offsetting any remaining energy use with on-site renewable energy sources like solar panels.  

The resolution before the U.S. Conference of Mayors couldn’t come at a more appropriate time. It’s been a year since President Trump pulled the U.S out of the landmark Paris climate agreement, but the challenges of a changing climate—such as historic flooding and wildfires—are as real as ever. As such, mayors and the cities they lead critically important. Just last week, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced the American Cities Climate Challenge, an unprecedented initiative to deepen and accelerate cities’ commitments to climate change action and which NRDC will help administer. Improved energy efficiency in buildings not only provides a huge reduction in climate-warming emissions, it lowers utility bills, improves comfort, and makes buildings and communities more resilient.

Why focus on improving the building energy code?

Buildings are the nation’s largest energy-consuming sector, using nearly half of the country’s energy and producing 39 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions.

Building energy codes set minimum energy efficiency requirements for new and renovated residential and commercial buildings, which means these buildings use less energy to keep the lights on and their inhabitants comfortable. In most of the country, electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels like natural gas or coal. The less energy those buildings consume from the start, the less pollution they will generate over their century-long lifespans. The building code is a crucial yet commonsense tool to make buildings better, more comfortable, and more efficient: it’s never cheaper or easier to add more insulation or better building systems than when the building is under construction.

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After making excellent progress in compelling more energy efficient products and materials between the 2006 and 2012 codes, the past few versions of the model International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) that cities and states can adopt have essentially held the line for energy efficiency, without much improvement. The Conference of Mayors resolution calls for the IECC to be put on a “glide path” with constant, steady improvements in efficiency in each triennial cycle.

This approach simply makes sense: it gives cities an excellent, ever-improving tool to achieve their aggressive climate-reduction goals. Up-to-date building energy codes ensure that new homeowners and business owners benefit from new and evolving technologies both in terms of lower energy bills but also in improved comfort, while providing builders with predictability.

Mayors have been big supporters of a better building energy code for years. In fact, this is the fifth resolution signed by the mayors in support of an improved code. We call on mayors from across the country to sign onto this resolution today, and keep the momentum going by participating in the upcoming energy code development process. The building energy code is developed by and for the jurisdictions that use the code—this is a chance to have a real impact on building energy policy. Fighting climate change takes all of us, and mayors can lead the way.

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