First step in building for climate change

This Issue This is a part of the Building for climate change feature

By - , Build 188

As MBIE’s Building for climate change programme develops, targets will be set for energy use and caps put on embodied carbon. The industry is also encouraged to think innovatively about designing, building and operating buildings.

Figure 1: Building and construction sector climate change response indicative timeframes.

WITH THE RELEASE of the 2021 Building Code update, the biggest energy efficiency changes to the Building Code in a decade are now being seen. The release also marks the first key achievement in the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) Building for climate change programme. For more on the update, see Building Code changes 2021.

The goal of the programme is to reduce emissions from constructing, operating and deconstructing buildings and to make sure our buildings are prepared for the future effects of climate change.

Building Code changes just the start

The changes in this year’s Building Code update include the establishment of six new climate zones with specific minimum insulation requirements, an increase to insulation levels for windows across the country and doubling the minimum requirements for roof insulation for all new homes and buildings.

The new requirements aim to reduce the energy needed to heat new homes by up to 40%, leading to positive health impacts for New Zealanders by enabling people to heat their homes more easily and efficiently.

MBIE is leading the building and construction sector policy for the whole-of-government emissions reduction plan. The insulation changes under the 2021 Building Code update are the start of our road to supporting New Zealand’s goal of mitigating the effects of climate change and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

Since the programme was launched in 2020, we have consulted on emissions mitigation frameworks for whole-of-life embodied carbon reduction as well as operational efficiency and published a summary of submissions following consultation. We have also engaged with stakeholders to gather insights and help prioritise areas for action.

Looking forward

Our current focus is on finalising carbon mitigation methodologies, developing resources, data and tools and exploring ways to build carbon awareness in building and construction. We will also be confirming the roadmap and approach for regulatory changes that are required to enable emissions reduction across the sector. The indicative timeline and approach are in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Building and construction sector climate change response indicative timeframes.

Three areas of action

Through the Building for climate change programme, we will be setting targets for energy use and caps on embodied carbon, as well as looking at ways to encourage innovative thinking about designing, building and operating buildings.

We have committed to three broad areas of action to support the path to low emissions.

Transforming operational efficiency

The first area is transforming the operational efficiency of buildings by reducing the amount of energy and water buildings use and improving ventilation and comfort. The changes to the insulation requirements under the 2021 Building Code update are the first step towards this goal.

Back to top

Reducing life cycle embodied carbon emissions

The second area is reducing embodied carbon emissions across a building’s whole life cycle. This is from the production of building materials all the way through to construction waste and what happens to the building when it’s at the end of its life.

Back to top

Adapting to extreme weather events

The third area is looking at how buildings adapt to extreme weather events, which are expected to occur more frequently. We will focus on two key principles:

  • No building in areas where climate change hazards are likely – for example, areas subject to flooding.
  • Ensuring design standards consider our future climate – for example, wind pressures and rainfall intensity.

Performance-based emissions targets

As part of these plans, a series of performance-based emissions targets are being developed that the sector will have to keep under when designing and building. There will be a plan for tightening these targets over time to drive ongoing emissions reduction and innovation in design and construction.

The proposed changes will make sure New Zealand’s buildings are using as little energy and water as practical and that they are warmer, drier and better ventilated. This means more money in people’s pockets due to lower energy bills and healthier places for us all to work and live.

We need everyone on board

Success will require us to shift the way we think and operate across the entire sector. Government will also need to change and adapt its approach to lead the way and to ensure the transition to a lower-emissions future is equitable.

We know these changes and the goal of the programme will not be easy to achieve. However, we need everyone across the sector to be on board. It will be worth it to secure a future for the next generations of New Zealanders.

We encourage you to start thinking about ways you can reduce emissions from building and construction activities from today. Be a part of the journey.

Back to top

For more

Visit the Building Performance site at

Download the PDF

More articles about these topics

Articles are correct at the time of publication but may have since become outdated.

Figure 1: Building and construction sector climate change response indicative timeframes.