In the last couple of weeks I was fortunate to have attended two important meetings in Paris convened by separate groups, but each with the same aim of developing actions that could again raise the profile of building energy efficiency and the potential of the sector to contribute significantly to achieving climate change goals. At the same time a different set of stakeholders with the same objectives was meeting in New York. All groups are looking ahead to COP21 in Paris as a potential catalyst for finally mainstreaming sustainable buildings and cities. However, despite common intentions, we risk failing to seize this opportunity due to a lack strategic coordination.
To be truly catalytic the building sector must not only be seen to be active at COP21. It must be present itself as having already achieved significant results, and as organized and ready to work collectively beyond COP21 to implement actions that will enable countries, regions, cities and organizations achieve the emissions reduction commitments they make.
A number of new activities to promote building energy efficiency and mitigating building-related GHG emissions have recently been launched. These include the Sustainable Energy for All Building Efficiency Accelerator, the UNEP 10Year Framework of Programs on Resource Efficiency in Sustainable Building & Construction, the IPEEC/Major Economies Forum Building Efficiency Initiative, and the C40 Private Sector Building Energy Efficiency Network. Moreover, there are more activities in development, such as the G20 work-stream on energy efficient buildings and on-going development of Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMA’s) for the building sectors in S.E. Asia, Mexico and potentially Africa. Private sector organizations such as the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the World Green Building Council, and of course NGOs like GBPN are also active with building efficiency initiatives.
There is no shortage of tools, knowledge assets and project experience within the building efficiency landscape that can be applied to help achieve the goals of such initiatives right now. However, unless there is clear strategic coordination of the extensive existing infrastructure of support, there is risk of generating a confusing proliferation of activities that end up dissipating financial and human resources and missing the opportunity to effectively tackle climate change.
The current situation is like a garage floor strewn with excellent tools, randomly being picked over by well-intended practitioners, many of who are searching for tools to solve the same problem. If they can’t find what they are looking for, they look for money to buy a new tool – only to leave it on the floor when project funding runs out for another practitioner to find (or not find). We all know it takes less time to find tools in a well-organized garage, where they are arranged on the wall or in well-labeled boxes. The efficiency improves again when a superintendent who facilitates training in using the tools, monitors their effectiveness on the job, and provides feedback to users manages the garage.
We don’t need new platforms, but instead need to coordinate existing knowledge assets such as on-line databases, technology and policy best-practices, research and analytics and access to experts. We need to clean up our “garage”.
Doing so will help project proponents, investors and funders by streamlining identification of funding opportunities, assisting potential program partners find co-funding opportunities with philanthropic donors and public funding. Better coordination therefore provides the potential to gather much needed significant long-tem funding for sustained support for mainstreaming sustainable building globally with an emphasis on developing and emerging markets. Among existing initiatives are common priority issues that would be more effectively addressed with proper coordination of knowledge assets and funding. These include:
- Supporting more ambitious building codes & standards with more effective implementation and compliance;
- Supporting labeling & rating of building materials and products
- Improved access to financing and funding for energy efficient building programs and projects
- Better data, common metrics, benchmarking and performance monitoring
- Best-practices, education and capacity building for policy makers and practitioners.
- More market transformative projects and human resources on the ground in cities.
There are also great opportunities for better integration between building-focused initiatives, and others focusing on super efficient appliances, lighting, district heating & cooling, building integrated renewable energy technology, low-carbon and resilient cities. We must also accelerate learning by properly monitoring programs, sharing lessons learned and communicating results.
And, for COP21 we need to get organized in order to:
- Show the collective impact of the building sectors energy-efficiency policies, programs and projects over the past decade,
- Identify, promote and quantify the impact of the commitments being made by governments, the private sector and citizens to reduce energy demand in buildings, and
- Show the capability of the building sector to implement actions that help achieve commitments and that bridge the gap between the impact of current commitments and the impact required to limit global warming to 2 degree C.
Most importantly we must be ready to stand together on the international stage and finally make visible the capability of the vast, effective and largely voluntary global movement for sustainable building that has worked tirelessly for decades to bring us to this point. We have all the tools, experts, information, demonstration projects, knowledge and expertise we need to start scaling up the mainstream implementation of sustainable building. We just need the support to work together to better organize these amazing resources and put them to work.
GBPN is now working with a core group of organizations to help clean up our building efficiency garage. We invite others to support us in preparing an organized resource by COP21 in December to support countries in achieving their climate change commitments.
- [Event] Buildings Day at COP21 - 3 December 2015, Paris
- [News] Climate success in Paris: the buildings sector’s key role
- Meet GBPN at COP21
- Join the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction!