COP21 boosting transition to a low-carbon built environment
The attention to the built environment at the United Nations’ 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) was unprecedented. We saw the first-ever Buildings Day, and buildings being discussed in all venues, from the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change official side events to city and private sector events in Paris. There are several takeaways and actionable conversations coming out of USGBC’s time in Paris.
Finance community investing in building efficiency
There were signs throughout the conference that the finance world is all in. As USGBC and our colleagues at GRESB and Ceres have been reporting, the investment world is responding in a big way to the threat of climate change—and the return-on-investment potential of building efficiency. Just this week, over 100 financial institutions from more than 40 countries committed to actively contribute to scaling up energy efficiency financing and to work toward tracking deployment of energy efficiency finance. Also, 39 investors collectively managing close to $4 trillion endorsed the G20 Energy Efficiency Investor Statement, pledging to embed energy efficiency into their investment processes, commit to increasing energy efficiency investments, and monitor and report on asset energy efficiency performance. The Global Environment Facility, a key funding entity, announced $23 million in funding for the Building Energy Accelerator and the District Energy Accelerator.
Buildings given new visibility
Buildings Day was marked by widespread understanding that green buildings are at the core of climate action, with potential to drive significant reductions both short- and long-term. As Marcene Broadwater of IFC put it, building green now prevents 80 years of future over-consumption.
Buildings Day began with a call to action as Minister Glen Murray of Ontario asserted the need to rapidly deploy technology to buildings and to get it right, because we can’t go back again and again. We know we must employ energy efficiency and clean energy together, by first saving energy, and then, for the energy we can’t save, making it green. Sandrine Dickson-DeCleve of the Prince of Wales Corporate Leaders Group bravely asked in the morning session, “If everyone says that this is the low-hanging fruit, why the hell aren’t we there?” Or, as Pierre-Andre Chalendar, CEO of USGBC member company Saint-Gobain, said more delicately in the afternoon, "We know how to make buildings that don’t use energy; the issue is, why don’t we?"
The finance community reiterated that the capital is there—or at least ready to be there. Some called for structures and tools to address transaction costs among multiple building sector actors, so that we can get financial flows to where they’re needed. There was agreement on emphasizing the life cycle approach to construction costs—where efficiency scores well. As Dr. Ishii of the Global Environment Facility explained, there’s a huge amount of potential CO2 reduction in buildings, but it doesn’t happen automatically: success requires the private sector and finance community. The need to work collaboratively throughout the value chain to internalize the externalities was emphasized.
Interestingly, private sector actors expressed the need for a strong government role, with codes, incentives and policies that are specific in context to help make our buildings what people want: better places to work, more comfortable homes, and places that support health for our children’s children. To this end, we were pleased to partner in highlighting the climate actions of 11 U.S. cities in the Local Climate Leaders Circle. These cities have not just made commitments, but have shown amazing results with both new and existing buildings, serving as role models to other local governments.
USGBC anchors green building councils in scaling up
Green building councils have a key role to play in bringing together the private, public and finance sectors. These councils support government policy advances and alignment with building technology, educate those along the value chain, scale up proven tools to mobilize capital for building efficiency and training and help make mainstream technological advances in the life cycle carbon footprint of buildings. USGBC, which runs LEED, the world’s most widely used green building rating system, committed to scaling green buildings and energy efficiency in buildings to more than 5 billion square feet (478 million square meters) over the next five years through LEED, as well as supporting adoption of EDGE as a key tool for energy efficiency in developing countries. We will bring our considerable tools, network and education platform to work with the newly formed Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction to successfully scale green and energy efficient buildings.
The new, official recognition of buildings as a solution, combined with the commitments of the financial community, private sector, green building council and governments, has signs of marking the tipping point we have anticipated. As Special Envoy Michael Bloomberg declared, we didn’t come to Paris to make history, but to make the future. USGBC is ready.