By Derek Newberry, Advocacy Fellow

For the first time ever at a world climate change summit, this year there is a dedicated “Building Day” on the agenda. Scheduled for December 3, “Building Day” will teach attendees about the role that the built-environment can play in mitigating climate change. 

Paris COP21 is also aiming to be the first ever climate conference where representatives of all 196 countries must sign a legally-binding agreement, pledging concrete commitments to decrease their emissions–a timely moment for green buildings to be put on the map. Negotiators will deliberate next week about the specific strategies. But after this Building Day raises world leaders' awareness about the significance of buildings' emission contributions, greener buildings may be on the top of their agenda. If there is push from the international community for green buildings, that may be the major catalyst needed to transform the building market.

More than 150 world leaders will attend the Paris climate talks, but this conference is commercially-inclusive, with thousands of attendees from both the public and private sectors. This collaboration is key to ensuring a healthy future for our environment and our economy.

French President François Hollande with other world leaders at the beginning of the conference

Why Buildings?

Buildings account for more than 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Already the largest single contributor to emissions, this number is predicted to double by 2050 if current building construction and operation practices continue. Without a dramatic change to building practices, the risks from climate change will quickly multiply–rapid urbanization, especially in developing countries, could accelerate these impacts.

However, being the largest single emissions contributor, it is clear that buildings should be the focus of emission-lowering efforts–and the green building industy is starting to pick up steam. 

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, here are a few key reasons that diplomats at Paris COP21–and professionals in the building industry–should make green buildings a priority as they craft new emission-reduction strategies:

  • The buildings sector offers one of the most cost-effective and economically beneficial paths for reducing energy demand and associated emissions. At the same time, it also supports adaptation and resilience to climate change.
  • There are many low-energy, renewable and deep-renovation solutions available. There are already proven policy, finance and technology strategies that exist.
  • There are significant economic, health, and social benefits of sustainable buildings. Buildings provide shelter, places to live, work, learn and socialize–most of our time is spent indoors. Moreover, buildings provide more than 50% of global wealth, and as one of the largest local-level employers, the sector also offers a path to poverty alleviation.
  • Buildings are long-term ventures, and investments in our future. With structures that last for decades, failure to act now would ensure an increase in GHG emission for decades.

December 3: Building Day at Paris COP21

Building Day will provide the opportunity for an unprecedented alliance of organizations that are all committed to the same key objectives as our own USGBC MA Chapter:

  1. Helping to put the buildings and construction sector on the “below 2 °C path”
  2. Aligning existing initiatives, partnerships, commitments and programmes to achieve greater scale and increase the pace of efficiency actions
  3. Catalysing stronger collaboration and targeting sectoral and cross sectoral climate action and solutions for allaligning environmental initatives, programs and partnerships to increase the pace and scale of catalyzing stronger collaboration and cross-sector solutions for climate change.

The Paris Climate Conference's Building Day agenda puts forth the following Alliance Proposition:

“Before COP21, every country will have determined its national contribution to limit global warming to below 2 °C. The world must come together immediately to support them to meet – and where possible, exceed – their targets. By publicly committing to support countries to implement ambitious actions in the buildings sector, including to meet their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), we propose an alliance to leverage our capabilities to facilitate:

  • Communication – Raising awareness and engagements, making visible the magnitude of the opportunities and impacts in the buildings sector, defining sectoral goals and promoting transparency and information exchange.
  • Collaboration – Taking action to further enable public policies and market transformations towards climate neutrality, implementing partnerships, sharing technology and know-how, and improving deal-flow and access to efficient financing and funding.
  • Solutions – Offering programs for further ambition and locally adapted solutions that firmly put the buildings sector on a below 2 °C path: invreasing efficiency of buildings systems and envelope, mainstreaming low GHG materials, low-emission new buildings and scaling up deep renovation.”

Going Green is Not Just Ethical: It's Economical

In the past few weeks leading up to the Paris COP21 climate talks, 54 major real estate and building companies, including Thornton Tomasetti, Skanska an JLL, signed on to the Building and Real Estate Climate Declaration. This business call-to-action urges policymakers to seize the economic opportuntiy of tackling climate change. The declaration was recognized last week at the U.S. Green Building Council's annual Greenbuild Conference and Expo in Washington, D.C. 

This document is a companion to the 2013 Ceres' Climate Declaration, which has more than 1,660 signatories nationwide–including iconic brands like Gap, Inc., General Mills, Disney, Apple and Starbucks. However, the building sector, a major economic driver in the United States (with real estate construction alone contributing $1 trillion towards the U.S. economic output in 2014), produces 39% of carbon emissions annually. Industry leaders signed this document to call attention to the specific risks and opportunities associated with the building sector.

“The Building and Real Estate Declaration is the first collective statement of the building community on climate, and it signals we are ready to get to work, both sustainably and profitably,” said Roger Platt, USGBC President, who praised the industry's call-to-action. “Our community knows that buildings represent the lowest cost and greatest potential to reduce carbon emissions. The Climate Declaration will give visibility to buildings as a critical climate solution. We’ve proven that by acting sustainably, we can leverage innovation and efficiency to driven economic growth.”

Industry giants including Skanska, JLL and Thornton Tomasetti, signed the declaration to show their commitment to sustainability, to communicate opportunity and best practices to policymakers and industry partners, and to recognize that strong policies are necessary to tackle climate change at the scale and pace needed. The signatories of the Building and Real Estate Declaration, and advocates of green buildings including USGBC and Ceres, urge negotiators at COP21 to follow this lead. Read more about this declaration and its potential impacts at the USGBC National site.

Check out the Paris COP21 site to get updates from the conference. Tune in to the climate talks especially on December 3, for news about the first ever “Building Day”!

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