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COP21: A Triumph or an Illusion?

Posted: December 21, 2015 by , Category:Climate Change

The photos of the delegates with big smiles, applauding and raised arms clearly illustrate that COP21 was a major success.  Delegates went home and could report a major achievement.  It was a massive step forward, achieving a global commitment to significantly reducing carbon emissions thereby substantially reducing the impact of global warming.

Should we all rejoice?

What are the key agreed targets from COP21?

  • To keep global temperatures “well below” 2.0C (3.6F) above pre-industrial times and “endeavour to limit” them even more, to 1.5C
  • To limit the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally, beginning at some point between 2050 and 2100
  • To review each country’s contribution to cutting emissions every five years so they scale up to the challenge
  • For rich countries to help poorer nations by providing “climate finance” to adapt to climate change and switch to renewable energy.

The agreement is the first where all countries have committed to cut carbon emissions. Some aspects of the agreement will be legally binding, such as submitting an emissions reduction target and the regular review of that goal.

Every five years countries will have to declare their ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contribution’ or INDC.  The idea is that every five years countries will set new, more rigorous targets.

What won’t be legally binding will be the emission targets. These will be determined by nations themselves and the INDC need not be a meaningful target.  For example a study on 31 of the INDC’s submitted so far show over 50% are inadequate and likely to lead to global temperature rises of 3-4⁰C.

In addition, whilst it is legally binding that the INDC targets are set, it is not legally binding that you need to achieve them.  This is a major weakness.

To date, 147 countries have submitted their INDC’s.  If these targets were to be achieved they will only reduce global warming to 2.7⁰C. This is well above the 2.0⁰C goal of the Paris Agreement.

Whilst ambitious goals have been set at COP21 it is left to others to work on how to implement the goals.

These INDC’s will require serious political commitment to deliver the targets, particularly if it requires reducing economic growth or is too expensive to implement.

Additional Concerns

US President Barack Obama has hailed the COP21 agreement as “ambitious”.  I am uneasy with the word ‘ambitious’ in this context.  He also admitted that the deal was not “perfect”, he said it was “the best chance to save the one planet we have”.  Again I don’t like the non-committal tone of the message.

In addition, China’s chief negotiator Xie Zhenhua agreed with the President and he also stated that the deal was not perfect.

It appears that COP21 achieved much good will and clearly a verbal intent to take action, but what will happen if one or more countries renege?  Will the agreement collapse like a pack of cards?

The big question is will there be the political strength in each country to implement the measures to tackle this problem?

Buildings, cities, manufacturing and industrial processes will play a major part of a countries carbon reduction strategy.  The problem each country faces is that there is little or no commercial lobby for energy efficiency.  The lobbying is done by the renewables and clean tech sectors.  Whilst these are important there is little point in renewables or clean tech if buildings are wasting 30%-50% of their energy in the first place.

Is it surprising that if buildings are not made energy efficient then more renewables and clean tech will be required?

Unfortunately, I fear the success of COP21 could be more of an illusion than a triumph. Put the Champagne back into the vault, it will be a long time before we will know if COP21 was a success or not.

Not just trends….Megatrends!

Posted: February 3, 2012 by , Category:LEED, Sustainability

2012 is going to be a great year! Just ask “the godfather of green” Jerry Yudelson. Builder magazine featured his 10 predictions for the next 12 (well, 11 now — where does the time go?) months.

Take a peek.

I’m particularly excited about #3 — LEED-EBOM (Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance) Will Gain Momentum.
We’re going to see this move to other sectors,” he says, particularly among hotels with strong convention and meeting businesses who want to be able to market their eco-friendliness. Grocery stores, hospitals, and retail centers are moving in the same direction, with features such as solar panels on top of Walmarts or department stores. “Last month, President Obama and former President Clinton announced the Better Buildings Initiative. It’s only $4 billion, so it’s not huge. But still, this is stuff that moves markets. When you have two presidents pushing something, it does get people’s attention. More and more building owners are realizing that they don’t want to be late to the party.

As I mentioned earlier this week in my post, Congrats to the LEEDing states!, around the IES offices, we’re hoping 2012 is the year of LEED-EB: O&M. Let’s reduce, reuse, recycle, repurpose…we’ve only got one Earth, and it’s getting pretty crowded.

What are your predictions for the rest of 2012?

Green Construction Sees Huge Growth

Posted: December 12, 2011 by , Category:careers, Sustainability

There has been a lot of negativity surrounding the state of the job market, new construction and business development in the United States. Sometimes it’s unavoidable. Turn on the television, read a newspaper or grab a magazine and you’re bound to see it. But if you’re in the green, clean or low-carbon sector, there appears to be a big light at the end of the tunnel.

A green jobs infographic released by JobVine highlights some promising statistics. Take a look at green construction, for example. In 2005, only $3 billion was spent on non-residential green construction in the United Sates. In 2010, that number skyrocketed to $54 billion. The best part? Non-residential green construction is predicted to be $145 billion by 2015. These are figures that anyone in this space can smile about. With President Obama continuing to push green tax incentives and loan programs, the future is looking good.


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we recover from this recession, the transition to clean energy has the potential to grow our economy and create millions of jobs — but only if we accelerate the transition. Only if we seize the moment.” — President Obama

From the nationwide increase in green jobs to the projected growth of green construction, it seems the industry is indeed seizing the moment!

It’s true that the U.S. government’s investments in green technology haven’t always paid off — just ask those who picked up office furniture, industrial supplies and T-shirts last month at the Solyndra bankruptcy auction. But that doesn’t mean additional funding is gone, especially with President Obama and former President Clinton’s recently-announced plan to invest $4 billion in energy upgrades to public and private buildings nationwide.

A recent article on Politico.com explains the duo has teamed up for the latest installment of President Obama’s “Better Building Initiative.” Government officials say the plan, which is meant to spur job growth and energy efficiency, avoids many of the problems of previous loan guarantees. How? By relying on both government and private investments; $2 billion from each over the next two years, to be exact. But what’s perhaps most interesting about this plan is what it says about the United States’ dedication to green technology and more energy-efficient commercial and industrial buildings.

Obama [was] joined by Clinton during a Washington, D.C., event Friday to sign a memorandum for a minimum of a $2 billion commitment from federal agencies over the next 24 months. The money will go toward hiring contractors to perform energy efficiency and other green upgrades at federal facilities. There also will be a $2 billion private-sector commitment, covering up to 1.6 billion square feet of commercial and independent property and involving roughly 300 manufacturing plants.

In this case, the U.S. government’s decision not to dwell on past mistakes certainly appears to be a good thing for the green building and energy efficiency industries at large. Here’s looking to a greener and more efficient future!


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