Published on Let's Talk Development

How do building energy codes and standards measure up? Unveiling a new global dataset

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Sustainable green building. | © Only 88 countries have adopted and made mandatory a building energy code or building energy efficiency standards in at least one city. | ©

In the global fight against climate change, buildings stand as both a significant contributor to greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions and a promising solution. Buildings account for 37% of energy-related emissions globally, driven by burgeoning growth in built-up floor area. The world adds the equivalent of a new Paris every five days — that is 6 billion sq meters of new floor area every year!

This is clearly unsustainable without massive improvements in the energy efficiency of buildings. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) estimates that the energy intensity of the global building sector needs to improve on average by 30% by 2030 to meet global climate goals. While advanced building energy codes can reduce a building energy’s consumption by up to 70%, the roll-out and adoption of these codes and standards has been slow and uneven globally.

Access to global data on building energy efficiency is imperative for policymakers to evaluate the efficacy of current regulations, prioritize resource allocation, and implement targeted interventions to accelerate the transition towards more sustainable and energy-efficient built environment. Although organizations such as the International Energy Agency, publish country profiles and energy efficiency policies, a global dataset using standardized definitions and common metrics across economies has not yet been developed. There is also very limited cross-country data on the actual enforcement and levels of compliance of building energy codes.

Addressing this need, the World Bank’s Global Indicators Group (DECIG) with funding from the Knowledge for Change Program Trust Fund, has launched a comprehensive dataset on building energy efficiency code compliance and enforcement. This tool, derived from primary data and desk research, evaluates regulations and enforcement of energy efficiency standards, enabling meaningful comparisons between cities.

What does the data reveal?

Prevalence of Building Energy Codes (BEC) and Standards

Map Prvalence of Building Energy Codes and Standards

Source: DECIG Building Energy Codes and Standards Dataset, 2024. Note: Data for Russian Federation not collected

Data collected, measuring one city per country, reveals significant gaps in the prevalence of building energy codes (BEC) and standards. Currently, only 88 countries (including the world’s 25 largest economies) have adopted and made mandatory a building energy code or building energy efficiency standards in at least one city. 54 countries have some standards but lack a comprehensive BEC.  However, 55% of these codes have not been updated since 2015, potentially falling short of high-performance standards. With 80% of floor area growth by 2030 expected in developing economies, these findings underscore the pressing need for concerted efforts to bridge the existing gaps in stringency of energy codes and their implementation.


Building Energy Codes 

Building Envelope: How Stringent are the building energy codes

Map. Building Envelope

Source: DECIG Building Energy Codes and Standards Dataset, 2024. Note: Data for Russian Federation not collected

Stringency in building energy codes is crucial as it ensures that structures adhere to rigorous energy efficiency standards. The data reveals that stringency varies significantly globally, with 70 countries having requirements for the building envelope, 54 having requirements for HVAC, and 60 for water heating and lighting. The level of stringency across these elements varies across countries and cities. For example, Sweden and Finland have similar climatic conditions. In Sweden, the building energy code recommends a less strict standard for roof insulation, aiming for a U value of 0.40 W/m2.K. In contrast, Finland sets a stricter regulation, aiming for a much lower U value of 0.09 W/m2.K. making buildings more energy efficient. The disparity in requirements, even among cities with similar climatic conditions, underscores the need for standardized, robust regulations to maximize energy efficiency gains.

Enforcement and compliance

Out of the 88 countries which have BECs or standards, 35 countries have both pre and post construction design requirements to enforce energy efficiency standards, while 53 countries have only pre-construction design requirements, 40 countries have only post-construction design requirements. Retrofitting existing buildings with building energy efficiency standards is more challenging and only 15 countries have such requirements in their regulations.

Providing adequate resources to the construction industry is key to facilitate compliance and improve uptake of energy efficiency technologies and designs; our data reveals that 78 countries have some form of such resources (design guides for architects; operator and maintenance guides; occupant guides for HVAC maintenance; consumer guides for energy efficiency appliances; training for stakeholders). In addition, survey data revealed that 65 countries have some form of financial incentives (grants; fee waivers; tax credits; rebates; loans; preferential utility rates) to increase uptake of energy efficiency technology and design.

Pathway to decarbonizing the building sector

Diagram: Pathway to decarbonizing the builing sector

Decarbonizing the building sector requires a multifaceted approach for both new and existing building stock. Passive design requirements, like optimal orientation and natural ventilation, can cut energy demand, but must be backed by robust enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance.

Countries with building energy codes should consider integrating energy efficiency measures aimed at improving the performance of building envelopes, glazing, and building service systems to meet enhanced Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS). For those without codes, establishing specific standards for new construction, either separately or as part of future codes, is essential to establish minimum performance requirements for various building types. Building energy codes should outline a clear pathway toward achieving net-zero carbon emissions through progressive tightening of regulations.

Small regulatory changes have the potential to yield substantial benefits, including electricity savings, emission reductions, and mitigation of energy poverty, when applied across millions of new buildings globally.

Jayashree Srinivasan

Regulatory Specialist, Development Economics Indicators Group

Enrique Orellana

Analyst, Development Economics Indicators Group

Victoria Chiseliov

Ph.D Student, Ghent University

Camille Guittonneau

Analyst, Development Economics Indicators Group

Trang Doan

Analyst, Development Economics Indicators Group

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