This week unveils not only Greenbuild Boston, but also the start of the two-week long 23rd annual Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (“COP23”). Nations of the world, along with local government, states, businesses and organizations, are gathering in Bonn, Germany.
From the U.S., the federal government will participate despite signaling intent to withdraw, as it remains a party to the underlying convention and cannot withdraw from the Paris Agreement for several years.
COP23 marks the second meeting since the conference achieved the first-ever global consensus for climate action through the Paris Agreement, which remains a groundbreaking accomplishment. With Paris, 180 countries acknowledged that humans are a cause of climate change and that collective action should be undertaken to keep the planet’s warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius.
Taking stock of our progress
Cumulatively, all the countries’ pledges do not add up to the below-2-degree scenario, and the Paris Agreement calls for national governments to submit a new round of nationally determined contributions in 2020. Critical to informing these pledges is a large part of the formal COP23 negotiations that aim to develop a Paris Agreement rule book and to agree on details for the “Facilitative Dialogue” process that will occur in 2018. The Facilitative Dialogue is the first check on how the parties are progressing against their pledges, and includes a special Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on the pathways to 1.5 degrees. The dialogue will support increased ambition and lead into the "Global Stocktake," to be conducted every five years.
In addition to mitigation of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, other issues to be discussed at COP23 will include technology, capacity-building support, adaptation and finance.
The submitted nationally determined contribution pledged by the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is at least 26–28 percent below 2005 levels, to be achieved by 2025. Estimates show that we are already about halfway to that goal, with 2016 carbon emissions hitting a 25-year low.
A federal research report released earlier this year also found that U.S. emission growth rates slowed as the economy became less carbon-intensive, although the slowing is not yet sufficient to meet the long-term, 2-degree goal of the Paris Agreement. Meanwhile, the U.S. Climate Alliance reported last month that its member states are on the path to meet their share of the nation’s Paris Agreement commitment; and the America’s Pledge initiative is undertaking an analysis of the collective impact of the commitments made by U.S. states, cities and businesses.
Building sector intensity declining, total area growing
How does the building sector fit in? The latest data indicate that buildings are currently responsible for about one-third of global energy consumption, and about 30 percent of global energy-related CO2 emissions and 20 percent of total CO2 emissions.
Building energy intensity has been improving, notably from improvements in building envelope, energy efficiency and electrification offsetting more carbon-intensive energy choices. These improvements are more than offset, however, by increases in the total amount of building space driven by both per capita increases and population growth. Global energy demand in buildings could actually increase by 50 percent by 2050 without improvement.
To align with the Paris Agreement goals, it is projected that we need to decrease the average energy intensity of the global building stock by 80 percent by 2050 through low- and zero-carbon strategies. Due to the work of many in the green building community, with projects demonstrating new technologies, achieving LEED Platinum and net zero energy status, we know this is technically possible; now, we need to accelerate efforts to bring these practices to scale.
From major corporations with large real estate portfolios to small design firms, the private sector plays an essential role in reducing the carbon footprint of buildings. Companies throughout the building and real estate sectors are making a difference—investing in efficiency and renewable energy, acting on commitments and expanding products and services to drive improvement in buildings and positively impact communities.
USGBC at COP23
USGBC is committed to elevating the role of green buildings and green communities as a critical part of mitigating climate change. As the leading source for green building information, education and certification, USGBC will use its presence at COP23 to highlight LEED as the global leadership standard for green buildings and to connect with attendees on policy approaches for green and net zero buildings.
Selected events include:
- "Mobilizing the Business of Clean and Productive Energy," with co-sponsors BCSE, the Alliance to Save Energy and the Corn Refiners Association, with business participants
- "Launch of the City Climate Planner Program," with the World Bank, World Resources Institute, and ICLEI
- "City Actions to Decarbonize Buildings," at the U.S. Climate Action Pavilion
- "What Is Possible? Pathways to Zero-emission Buildings," as part of Human Settlements Day
- "Innovation in Materials and Design: Catalysis for the Transition to a Low-carbon Future," with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development
USGBC will continue to lead globally in carbon reduction and green building goals. Taking part in COP23 is an essential part of this task.