Optimism for green buildings – updates from Cancun negotiations

December 13, 2010 at 6:26 pm | Posted in General, Legislative Outreach | Leave a comment
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So, we saw a deal in Cancun. How good a deal it proves to be we’ll have to wait and see, but one thing’s for sure – it’s a lot better than it might have been. But drawing breath after a hectic fortnight in Cancun – what does it mean for the built environment industry now?

 I was in Cancun representing the World Green Building Council and our growing family of affiliated organisations all around the world.  So naturally, I’m hugely optimistic about the role of the construction and real estate sector to be part of the solution. After all, the building industry represents the biggest and most cost effective emission reduction potential of any sector.

Unfortunately, not all business representatives are there to put forward as progressive an agenda as the World GBC. Christiana Figueres, Secretary General of the UNFCCC said in Cancun that business is actually acting as a handbreak on the negotations, with a clear split between what she described as ‘winners’ and ‘losers’.

She meant the (potential) winners are the renewables and clean tech sectors, the losers are the oil companies and coal producers. She claimed that the latter group is frankly much better organised, better funded and have worked on governments to develop and fix their positions before they arrived. Pretty depressing!

But it’s not all doom and gloom. This is the key point for me: post-COP the attention will revert back to national actions on carbon mitigation, not least non-Kyoto countries who have made ‘pledges’ on emissions reductions.  It is here where those of us who plan, design, construct, own and refurbish buildings need to stand up and be counted.

The best advice I heard in Cancun, which could go for any business, was:

  1. Know your footprint – that’s the bare minimum. Understand the risks and opportunities and position your company accordingly.
  2. Go beyond the baseline and leverage up and down the value chain, in turn educating business and consumers
  3. Invest in transformation of the sector
  4. Call on governments to set higher emissions reductions targets by giving them support and political space

 All of this is very close to our heart as GBCs and I think there is a very important role that GBCs and our members ‘on the ground’ can play. It is to get on and prove we can ‘do’ green building! It’s our sector that will enable countries to meet their national targets.

There is so much low-hanging fruit in the built environment, in the form of energy efficiency, which has still to be picked. And when benefits of building green include energy security, job creation, health and productivity benefits to business and communities, as well as cost savings to end users – why wouldn’t we want to do it anyway?

Clearly it’s not quite as simple as that – and there are significant barriers that vary nation to nation, but I have confidence in our ability as an industry and as a green building movement to overcome those barriers.

In Cancun Lord Stern described the characteristics of a new industrial revolution – a de-carbonized society. Every industrial revolution has had 2 -3 decades of innovation and creativity before scaled growth is achieved. We are in that crucial phase right now, where we need to focus on acceleration and strategies to scale up best practice.  It’s a huge challenge, but also a huge opportunity.

Jane Henley
World Green Building Council

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