Last chance saloon: Construction sector to play vital role in COP 21

As more than 190 nations gather to discuss a new global agreement on climate change, the 21st UN Climate Change Conference Of The Parties (COP 21) cannot be described as anything short of a crucial event.
With its responsibility for more than 30 per cent of the worlds greenhouse gases, the building sector will come under the microscope on December 3rd, as the conference will host the first ever Buildings Day.

On the eve of COP 21 in Paris, the stakes are high.

After almost 20 years of UN negotiations, and in the wake of the major Copenhagen conference setback in 2009, the challenge has been set to close the emissions gap.

Closing in on the tipping point, the goal is to realise an agreement that keeps a global temperature rise below 2°C, a temperature that the scientific community believe might just keep humanity within safe climate boundaries.

When Johan Rockström, Professor in Environmental Science and Director of the Stockholm Resilience Center, visited the Construction Climate Challenge Summit in June, he urged for rapid measures in order to move forward.

“This might well be our last chance of having a stable climate. If we do not change our behaviour quickly, we may well lose the environmental stability upon which our planet – and our lives – depends”, he said in his keynote address.

Although a shared agreement at COP 21 is just the beginning. In order to reinforce the targets, it has been suggested that more effort should be made to bring down emissions by engaging non-state actors such as cities, local governments and businesses to do more.

Here, the building and construction sector plays a vital role. Responsible for more than 30 per cent of global greenhouse gas (GHG), and expected to increase by 70 per cent by 2050, a business-as-usual approach will have dramatic consequences.

In recognition of the fact that the construction industry is an essential part of the solution to achieve the below 2°C objective, COP 21 will host the first ever Buildings Day. It aims at aligning existing initiatives and commitments to increase the pace of efficiency actions. During the day, a Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (Global ABC) will be officially launched, with the aim of putting the whole sector on track to stay below the threshold.

“With innovative new technologies and expected cost reductions, climate-damaging emissions can be further cut, leading to an eventual complete decarbonisation of the sector”, Oliver Rapf, Executive Director of the Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE) writes on the subject in a publication for the think tank Friends of Europe.

Quite possibly the most important conference to take place since the 1997 Kyoto protocol, which required worldwide cuts in emissions of about 5 per cent, COP 21 represents for many the last chance to re-think how we live on this planet. Although inextricably linked to the construction sector, what happens during the two weeks in Paris will undoubtedly affect us all.