Buildings and Spatial Development
Our home should be a place where we feel comfortable. Let us make sure that our home does not lead to other people having to leave their homes because of the climate crisis.
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Some abbreviations are used in this chapter. You can find explanations of all abbreviations in the glossary.
In our vision of a climate-neutral future, not only the existing buildings will be converted to being climate-neutral in terms of energy. The society will be reorganized in such a way that a life without greenhouse gas emissions is natural, that gives more joy and creates more purpose between us humans in comparison to our present, often loud, ruthless and rushed "being driven".
In the buildings sector, greenhouse gas emissions and other waste are prohibited, both during construction and operation. All materials and resources are recycled, reused or can be returned to nature. Property and ownership rights are also adapted in such a way that the residents have a much greater say in the design of their living environment. Wherever possible, living is organized non-profit (e.g. cooperatively) because with real estates no profit is made any longer: Living is a basic right, not a commodity. All new buildings are built as plus energy houses and serve at the same time as CO2 storage.
Wherever constructional development is necessary, it is condensed in places that are well connected to public transport - preferably in the cities. However, very few additional buildings are needed, since both commercial properties are used more efficiently through new ways of working and the amount of private space per person is decreased. This is because diverse neighborhoods (for 300 - 800 people) are being created in the cities and in the villages, whereas as many things as possible such as rooms, infrastructures, workshops, services for daily needs are shared and maintained together (commons). Needs that do not have to be satisfied in every neighborhood are organized in community centers, district centers or citywide. This joint organization makes living affordable for everyone, significantly reduces the amount of private space needed and makes everyday life much easier. Much is also changing at the regional level: Workplaces are far less concentrated in the large agglomeration centers such as Zurich, Basel, Bern, Lausanne or Geneva, but are more evenly distributed throughout the area (and of course well served by public transport) - in keeping with the credo of a city of short distances. On average, the daily commuting distances are in this way becoming shorter. Where many commuting distances are within walking or cycling distance, the streets are also becoming a place to live and to meet. Because local life is so exciting, varied and worth living, recreational traffic is also decreased. Our cities and villages are less sealed and better adapted to global warming. Trees, green roofs and facades, as well as water elements such as streams and ponds, contribute to cooling the local climate and food is planted in the heart of our settlements as a supplement. In general, there are more synergies between urban, peri-urban (around the cities) and rural areas. The potentials of the different areas of action are well utilized everywhere: Climate neutrality is lived everywhere - although in very different ways according to the respective local conditions.
All developments that were still necessary are extremely economical in their use of soil: Valuable soils remain unsealed, so that they are not only available for food and goods production but can also resume their role as carbon sinks once agricultural practices have been adapted. Diversity in flora and fauna is increased significantly as a result of greater structural diversity in the entire settlement area, whether built on or in the landscape. Nature is healthy and is becoming increasingly richer, more beautiful and more climate resilient itself, thus - together with us - reducing CO2 on a large scale!
Our quality of life will increase due to the better climate-neutral buildings, the solidarity in the neighborhoods and the new connection to nature and agriculture. Our living is happier, more active, more communal and healthier. - Many people used to associate the terms "sustainability" or "net 0" with "less allowed" and "more musts". Today we understand: Our consumption-intensive, structurally conditioned individualism actually meant above all great loneliness, pressure or stress to raise funds and exhaustion of resources. We are all more relaxed now, because the necessary material "less" has become a life-enhancing "more". We recognize that we can create, share and enjoy many things together, instead of despairing and relinquishing in solitude.
Buildings and Architecture
The construction, renovation and operation of buildings are responsible for around 30% of all CO2eq in Switzerland, 40% of which is caused by the building materials used and around 60% attributable to operations (Gauch et al. 2016).
About two thirds of building emissions come from private households (heating and hot water), one third from industry and commercial buildings. Although the energy demand per capita for heating and hot water has fallen continuously (Roost et al. 2018), Switzerland has still very high per capita emissions in the building sector.
A large proportion of this is heating and hot water, which, despite a decline in the use of fossil fuels, are still powered mainly by oil and gas (60%). Even today, defective heating systems are often replaced by new oil heating systems. Overall, around 60% of all newly installed heating systems are still based on fossil fuels (Federal Statistical Office).
Grey energy is the amount of primary energy required for all upstream processes, from raw material extraction to production, processing and disposal, including the necessary transport and auxiliary materials. The resulting greenhouse gas emissions are significant. In today's new buildings, grey energy accounts for approximately one quarter of the total primary energy used for construction, operation and mobility. At 40 to 50 kWh/m2 , this is a large share in the energy balance compared with the energy required for space heating and hot water (Energie Schweiz 2017).
In the case of zero- or plus-energy houses, the share of grey energy is of course even more significant and must also be significantly reduced for a real net zero solution.
Although Switzerland is already very densely built-up, there is still a lot of building activity, driven by population growth and a changed amount of space used per inhabitant. This is mainly due to more individual dwellings and older people who have a higher demand for space. The average living space per person in 2018 was 46m2 (FSO 2018), for persons over 65 years even at 70m2. Construction activity is expected to remain at a high level in the coming years (approx. 45.0 million m3 per year).
Although today's standard for new buildings is much stricter, especially in terms of thermal insulation and energy consumption, building permits will continue to be issued for buildings without renewable energy production and with fossil fuel heating systems. The CO2eq emissions caused by construction are usually not even included in the energy balance of the houses, so that concrete, metal and glass continue to dominate, causing excessive CO2eq pollution.
Refurbishments and Renovations
The rate of energy-related refurbishment of existing buildings is currently around 1%. In order to achieve the climate targets, the rate would have to be significantly higher, at around 10% per year from 2021 to 2030.
It should also be noted that building components have different lifetimes and need to be replaced at different times during the entire life of the building. There are no meaningful statistics on the amount of grey energy used to replace building components. In addition, the annual amount of demolition material from buildings is also important, which is currently estimated at around 16 million tons and is expected to increase further.
Legislation and Standards
More than 140,000 paragraphs and over 20,000 EN standards and recommendations and, respectively, guidelines regulate construction activities and buildings at federal, cantonal and municipal level or through associations and clubs. For example, the CO2 Ordinance is at federal level and zoning is regulated at municipal level. Emissions can be influenced by legislation, e.g. through SIA 2040 Life Cycle Assessment or the CO2-levy on fuels, which has been increasing the price of fossil fuels since 2008. The levy currently stands at CHF 96 per ton CO2eq and could rise up to CHF 230. Two thirds of the proceeds of the levy will be redistributed to the population (via health insurance) and the economy, whereas one third will be used for innovation . However, the measures did not really lead to a significant reduction in emissions.
Due to this structure, changes in the law are very laborious and rarely fast. Therefore, a number of voluntary measures and incentives for rehabilitation have been introduced and more are planned. In addition, regulations from the financial industry could also have an impact on real estate, as the largest real estate owners in Switzerland are pension funds that have clear guidelines for their investments. On the other hand, it is often precisely pension funds that only build exactly according to regulations and do not incur additional costs for energy-related renovations.
The tendering and planning of construction projects takes a long time, so much so that today's construction sites are based on plans that did not take climate change into account. However, it is precisely in the early planning phases that the framework conditions for the construction project are defined and the strategic decisions are made, which are also decisive for the expected CO2 direct and indirect emissions.
In addition, construction methods and housing structures have a major impact on local ecosystems and mobility. Here too, we are still not thinking in terms of systems, but are looking at each building and each construction phase isolated. This chapter has the aim to show how the construction and operation of buildings need to be changed in such a way that houses and cities are transformed from CO2 emitters to CO2 sinks, having an additionally positive impact on our environment and way of life and are also available and affordable for all sections of the population.
The recent decades have been characterized by strong urban development in Switzerland. Land use statistics reveal that between 1985 and 2009, settlement and infrastructure areas increased by 23%, leading to the conversion of 584 km2 of open land into newly built-up areas. This corresponds to a surface larger than the total area covered by Lake Geneva, or an increase of 0.8 m2 per second (FOEN 2017). This evolution took place mainly at the expense of agricultural areas, which decreased by 5.4% in the meantime. This means that over these three decades, roughly 1.1 m2 of agricultural land disappeared every second (Fig. 3-2). This implies that less and less agricultural land is available for local food production. Should this situation lead on the long run to an increase in food imports, it could possibly affect Swiss carbon emissions. In fact, food imports account yearly for 9.3 million tons of CO2eq and represent about 60% of the total greenhouse gas emissions of the Swiss agricultural and food industry (2011 data, (D. Bretscher et al. 2014)).
Fertile soils are a prerequisite for the production of low-carbon local food, and it is essential to ensure their long-term protection. However, soils are more than two-dimensional surfaces supporting food production and the construction of roads, buildings and other infrastructures. They represent invaluable ecosystems and provide numerous lesser-known services such as e.g.: Carbon sequestration, water filtration and nutrient retention (Baer and Birgé 2018). In particular, soils are a key component of the global carbon cycle, since they regulate carbon exchanges between plants, the atmosphere and the pedosphere. Depending on climatic conditions, soil properties and land uses, soils may in fact act either as sinks or as sources of greenhouse gases (GHGs) (Ng 2019). In Switzerland, for example, the national research program NFP 68 recently concluded that Swiss soils store about 7 times more carbon than the atmosphere (Hagedorn et al. 2018). However, it also states that the carbon content of arable land has been decreasing over the past decades because of land use changes and agricultural management practices. In the same vein, a publication of the European commission recently stated that “if current trends continue, soils are likely to go on releasing large amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere, adding to ongoing climate change and cancelling out savings in emissions made by other sectors, such as industry or transport” (European Commission 2011).
In order to limit soil consumption and promote inward urban development, the federal law on spatial planning was partially revised in 2014. The new legislation is currently being implemented at municipal level: Compact urban development is implemented through infill redevelopment and densification, and developers as well as landowners are encouraged to use land more economically through a new tax levy. Concurrently, undeveloped building zones are reduced in size and reallocated between urban and rural areas.
In parallel, new instruments have been developed to encourage regional cooperation and cross-sectoral planning. For instance, agglomeration programs aim to better coordinate urban and transport development in order to reduce traffic load. However, much remains to be done in this respect. To name but one example: Around 4 million Swiss people commute daily between their home and their workplace (FSO 2019c). In doing so, they travel 30 km on average (round trip), and 52% of them use their private car to this purpose (FSO 2019c). Unfortunately, current policies tend to involuntarily increase commuting patterns by concentrating new infrastructures in agglomeration centers. Therefore, the ratio between job and housing opportunities (employment density, i.e. number of jobs per 100 inhabitants) tend to be higher in urban core areas than in smaller urban centers and suburban locations (Setz, Frank, and Suter 2019). Consequently, a large proportion of workers are forced to commute every day between their suburban homes to their workplaces in agglomeration centers. New approaches are urgently needed to reduce these commuting movements and their associated CO2 emissions by better balancing the job/housing ratio within agglomerations.
Policy Measures Buildings
We propose a package of different measures for the building sector. At the same time, the CAP also proposes cross-sectoral policy instruments that will also contribute to decarbonization in the building sector. They are explained in detail in the chapter Cross Sectoral Policies.
Policy 3.1: Ban and Replacement Obligation for Fossil & Electric Heating Systems
Policy 3.2: Climate Fund
Policy 3.3: Promotion of Bio-Based Building Materials
Policy 3.4: Expert Commissions to Develop the Net Zero Compatibility of Existing Laws and Building Regulations
Policy 3.5: One-Stop-Shop Advice Centers
Policy 3.6: Renovation Incentives in Rented Buildings
Policy 3.7: Digital Material Archive and Component Market to Support Circular Material Cycles
Any social action has a spatial dimension. Conversely, spatial development and spatial planning only indirectly influence greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, although good coordination of settlement and transport development aims at a society with less traffic, the possible savings effects cannot be quantified directly. Rather, spatial development is concerned with qualitative questions, which are, however, highly relevant for the discussion of a climate-neutral future (cf. Vision): How do we organize ourselves as a society in space, how do we shape it, what ideas, hopes and expectations do we attribute to it? Practically all of the policies related to spatial development are directly related to policies from other subject areas (e.g. mobility, economic and political structure, agriculture, etc.) or are described in the specific chapter instead of here.
Spatial development is relevant at all levels of scale. Today, the design of development processes in spatial and urban planning has a great responsibility for the production of space. Such development processes are generally coordinated by the planning authorities (e.g. for cantonal and communal structure plans, zoning plans, proposals maps, as lead authorities for infrastructure planning, etc.). Since the 1990s, there has been a strong strategic tendency towards project-based planning. Hence important planning decisions are often not taken at the higher levels of society (confederation, cantons, city-wide) – they often remain merely vague here – but are (spatially) shifted backwards, e.g. to the level of site development. However, it is precisely here, at the level of concrete local development, that major restrictions on innovative approaches are applied as well (e.g. alternative traffic organization, massive reduction and re-organization of parking spaces etc.), as isolated solutions do not seem feasible in the context of competing cities and a lack of legal prerequisites. On the other hand, solutions at spatially superordinate level (community-wide, canton-wide) that attempt to counter the prevailing way of life, do quickly fail due to the competition among cities, too. Nevertheless, the local level plays a central role in social transformation – since it is only here, at the level of encounters and everyday life of people, that practices can be reinvented and lived. Whether in neighborhoods, in (car-free) districts, but also in the entire city with its surrounding countryside and its importance not only for recreation and leisure, but also for the production of agricultural goods for the cities.
The policies listed below address the facets of climate protection, climate adaptation and climate justice in different ways. On the one hand, they have a rather restrictive character (e.g. Climate Impact Assessments for Planning, Projects & Stock Development), on the other hand, they have an enabling character (e.g. Creating frameworks for development processes towards climate neutral cities and communities).
In addition, for a climate-neutral Switzerland, a number of other policies in the area of spatial development are beneficial or necessary, but since their effects are rather indirect, they are not described in detail here. The following are examples of such policies:
- Enabling the re-localization of today's (globalized) production processes by securing land for commercial and industrial production: This will facilitate, for example, the re-appropriation of production-consumer relations and increase social resilience by reducing global dependencies. Last but not least ⅔ of Swiss CO2 emissions are imported into Switzerland as "grey emissions" in the form of goods, services and products.
- If additional living space is required to counteract any housing shortage – and other mechanisms for moving closer together or reducing the specific living space requirement have been exhausted (cf. other policies, as well as: conversion of office workplaces, housing exchange, relocation assistance, etc.) – then it is important to build on the existing buildings (re-densification and interior development). High building density creates the conditions for good pedestrian accessibility, as well as for high density of encounters and experiences, which contribute to the creation of attractive and livable urban spaces and neighborhoods.
Spatial development measures for adaptation to climate change (from the danger of landslides due to permafrost’s thaw to heat stress in cities) are not discussed further here. A policy merely refers to the synergies with climate mitigation measures.
Policy 3.8: “Soil Index Points” to Secure High Soil Quality for Local Food Production and for a Limitation of Carbon Loss
Policy 3.9: Implementation of Climate Impact Assessments for Planning, Projects & Stock Development
Policy 3.10: Creating Frameworks for Development Processes towards Climate Neutral Cities and Communities
Policy 3.11: Creating Frameworks for Walkable and Livable “Cities of Short Distances”
Policy 3.12: Designing Development Processes to Develop the Specific Potentials of Peri-urban and Rural Areas
Policy 3.13: Compensating the Unequal Workplace-Share to Create Regions of Short Distances
Policy 3.14: Establishing Housing-Policies to Enable a “Just Transition”
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