By Derek Newberry, Advocacy Fellow

After a week of lectures and meetings at the Paris climate talks (including a Building Day, that focused on the role that sustainable buildings could have in mitigating climate change), it is time for delegates to finalize an agreement between 196 countries. After spending four years to get the document to its current point, some delegates are concerned that too weighty of a decision is being left to politicians, who must come to an agreement by the end of the week. It is not yet decided if the entire agreement will be legally-binding, or just certain components. 

The current document is 48 pages long and contains more than 900 brackets, which indicate areas of disagreement. In the next week, the world's leaders truly have the fate of the world in their hands–and they have a lot of opposing viewpoints to consider.

Many island nations want this document to reflect the fact that with a global temperature rise of more than 1.5°Celsius, their homes may be lost to the rising sea. Other countries are pushing for a 2°C goal.

There is disagreement about financing: richer countries want to expand the base of donor countries, if there will be an increase in the promised $100 billion from 2020. This funding will help the poorer countries cope with climate change and ease their transition to low-carbon electricity.

There are major divisions over how the carbon-cutting promises made in this agreement will be reviewed, how frequently, and using what standard.


Representatives from some of the poorest nations are concerned that their development will be sacrificed to reach the Paris climate goals. They argue that today's wealthiest nations got rich after decades of industrialization and pollution, and without the same “development space,” or chance to develop their economies, a stringent climate agreement that strictly limits pollution levels will are condemn them to the same poor future. Other poor nations are concerned that they will be disproportionately affected by climate change if the agreement isn't hard enough on the wealthiest, highest polluting nations. Most of the world's poorest countries are closer to the equator, in regions much more susceptible to the storms and rising sea levels that are associated with higher global temperatures.

According to an article from the BBC, “By the end of October, 146 countries had submitted national climate plans on curbing emissions that are expected to form the cornerstone of a binding, global treaty on climate change. According to a UN report, submissions in their current form point to a rise of 2.7°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100.Scientists have determined that if temperature rises surpass 2°C, this will lead to substantial and dangerous climate impacts, which will hit the world's poor in particular.” [See graph above].

It was timely that in the midst of these momentous climate talks, yesterday morning Beijing issued its first ever “red alert” over smog levels. According to the state-run Xinhua news agency, “The red alert is the highest possible, and has not been used in the city before.” In the early morning, the air pollution monitor operated by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing reported that the intensity of the poisonous, tiny particles of PM 2.5 was 10 times higher than the recommended limit.

The effects of greenhouse gases on our environment are becoming increasingly clear, as seen in this shocking photo from a smog-filled Beijing. But the one positive outcome of seeing these dramatic changes to our planet is that it has forced world leaders to find grounds for compromise.

In a speech yesterday morning, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said that the top government officials have the power, and responsibility, to set a sustainable foundation that will enable security and prosperity for all. Yet, in spite of the mountain of challenges these delegates face at COP21, Mr. Ban was optimistic. “A week ago, 150 world leaders stood here and pledged their full support for a robust global climate agreement that is equal to the test we face,” Mr. Ban remembered. “Never before have so many Heads of State and Government gathered in one place at one time with one common purpose.”

The Paris climate talks have inspired a willingness to compromise that has never been seen before. Four of the biggest pollutors–the U.S., European Union, Canada and China–declared yesterday that they were now open to the 1.5°C goal endorsed by the most environmentally vulnerable countries.

It is not clear if there are strings attached to these pledges, but with only a week left for delegates to come to a final agreement, it will soon be clear. 

One thing is clear, though: these climate talks are raising the profile of sustainable industries, and will soon increase the demand for much higher energy efficiency across the board. And that's great news for green buildings.





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