Deep Decarbonization in Practice: Solutions and Challenges for Low-Carbon Building Retrofits


  • Laura Tozer Durham University


urban, cities, climate change, decarbonization


This paper examines efforts taking place in London, San Francisco and Stockholm to implement deep greenhouse gas emission cuts—‘deep decarbonization’—through the transformation of buildings and urban energy infrastructure for increased energy efficiency and low/zero carbon energy supply. Drawing on interviews, policy document analysis, and site tours to buildings and energy infrastructure, this paper analyzes how deep decarbonization is being embedded into urban buildings, energy systems, and institutions. It argues that practitioners are finding ways to create new low/zero carbon future buildings, but are having difficulty correcting the historical development path through retrofitting. This paper examines solutions and challenges brought to light by urban decarbonization in practice targeting existing buildings from which other cities can learn. Four key lessons for low/zero carbon retrofits are highlighted: 1) shift primary targets from homeowners to owners of multiple buildings, 2) expand the suite of resources available to support zero carbon retrofits, 3) experiment and teach using public investment, and 4) institutionalize energy and carbon reporting linked to municipal department targets. Given the necessity of low-carbon, efficient, and climate resilient building retrofits to address the climate crisis, action can be scaled up by considering buildings and energy infrastructure an infrastructure priority for public investment.

Author Biography

Laura Tozer, Durham University

Department of Geography