News release

Cities using more regulation to reach net-zero targets through decarbonization of buildings

Significant opportunity to achieve city decarbonization goals with improved consistency of standards, policies and reporting of building emissions

May 23, 2022

Jesse Tron

Global PR, Corporate Communications
+1 212 376 1215

DAVOS, Switzerland, May 23, 2022 – City governments are setting ambitious sustainability targets, often well ahead of national goals; yet plans to tackle the carbon emissions from buildings are frequently given insufficient attention. To deliver a holistic and effective decarbonization plan for buildings, partnerships with landlords, investors, developers and occupiers are paramount.

In a study of 32 global urban centers, Decarbonizing Cities and Real Estate, JLL’s research revealed that real estate’s contribution to emissions averages 60%, even higher in the world’s largest business centers – as much as 78% in London, 73% in Tokyo, 71% in Washington, DC, 70% in Paris and 66% in New York. Yet the study finds there is a significant gap between the policies enacted in municipalities, the impact of the real estate industry and the climate science that indicates the need to reach peak emissions to limit global warming. The research identified that the most successful cities to advance decarbonization will be those that balance regulation, incentives, innovation and accelerators.

"Partnerships between the private-sector and local governments are critical to driving tangible progress in decarbonizing the economy, particularly in the Global North where so much retrofit is required of existing building stock,” said Guy Grainger, Global Head of Sustainability Services and ESG for JLL. “If this doesn’t happen expect local governments to introduce heavy regulation and penalties on building standards – there will be winners and losers as cities race to zero.”

Cities are using an array of instruments to decarbonize

Several cities were called out for their innovative approaches to reducing emissions from buildings, including New York City with a raft of local laws that are among the most stringent globally; Singapore and Vancouver, which have set out holistic approaches to greening their buildings; Paris and Amsterdam, which are taking a lead in considering embodied carbon; London and Los Angeles which are setting the pace on biodiversity; and Tokyo’s cap-and-trade program which incentivizes building owners to reduce emissions. 

However, the research warns that, in aggregate, at the global scale, policy is lagging the science today and this puts a greater onus on the private sector to take the lead in climate action. Waiting for regulation to take action is not advised, and those who act now will have more resilient assets and even a competitive edge.

One of the biggest gaps in realizing net-zero targets is in greening energy grids – a challenge corporates have no direct control over and one that often requires larger collaboration at the multi-city or national level. To meet this challenge of both breadth and urgency, cities will need to collaborate with neighboring local, state and national governments to develop large-scale renewable energy and storage infrastructure.

The research also identified the pivotal role that knowledge sharing and accelerator programs play in facilitating the retrofitting of existing buildings, particularly for small owners and occupants. In developed cities, 80% of the building stock that will be standing in 2050 has already been built. To meet 2050 targets, retrofitting rates will need to exceed 3% per year – they currently stand at 1-2% – making knowledge sharing of sustainable practices between governments and large and small entities critical to keep pace.

This research highlighted a wide array of regulations and reporting structures being rolled out by governments, and different metrics and definitions being adopted. Cross-border collaboration will be needed, especially to help mitigate the worst impacts of climate change for the planet, and in particular for the most vulnerable cities in the Global South. 

About JLL

JLL (NYSE: JLL) is a leading professional services firm that specializes in real estate and investment management. JLL shapes the future of real estate for a better world by using the most advanced technology to create rewarding opportunities, amazing spaces and sustainable real estate solutions for our clients, our people and our communities. JLL is a Fortune 500 company with annual revenue of $19.4 billion, operations in over 80 countries and a global workforce of more than 100,000 as of March 31, 2022. JLL is the brand name, and a registered trademark, of Jones Lang LaSalle Incorporated. For further information, visit