COP24 – What does it mean for the construction industry?
COP24 – What does it mean for the construction industry?
COP24 - the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change - how does it impact us?
Tensions leading up to the 24th annual Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (“COP24”), were high in Katowice, Poland. On the agenda was the creation of a ‘rulebook’ to be finalized by the end of COP24, that would effectively commit the world to keeping global warming below 2°C relative to pre-industrial times, and as was mandated in the landmark agreement at the 2015 Paris Accord.
WT investigates the implications COP24 has on the North American construction industry
By Nick Conte
How has COP24 impacted the construction industry? What does Globalization, Urbanization and Construction have to do with environmental sustainability?
The ‘rulebook’ which was successfully completed when COP24 commenced, details necessary guidelines for the Paris Agreement’s implementation by 2020 and addresses a variety of matters pertaining to how participating countries should report on greenhouse gas emissions, contributions or subsidies made to climate finance movements, as well as applicable rules to voluntary market mechanisms, the most well know being carbon trading. Many observers have marked COP24 as a last chance for a collective effort to mobilize a campaign to combat climate change. So, what does this mean for the construction industry and what do we need to do our part?
As we find ourselves in an age of exponential technological growth and rapid globalization, our industry consequently finds itself at a crossroads. With resource scarcity and extreme environmental degradation thrusting terms like climate change, global warming and sustainable development into everyday discourse, people of all ages, cultures, nationalities and industries have been advised to take notice. With the recent success attained at COP24, it is apparent that the effort to combat climate change is growing. This year’s conference saw representatives from 196 countries come together to craft the Katowice Climate Package, wherein negotiators were tasked with creating a ‘rulebook’ to be finalized by 2018 and as mandated by the Paris Agreement formalized at the 2015 Paris Accord.
The 2015 Paris Agreement is a tenant within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, pertaining to greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance. Regulated implementation will begin in 2020 for participating countries, as the ‘rulebook’ has outlined protocols for reporting emissions, rules applying to voluntary actions and climate finance contributions. Essentially, the ‘rulebook’ is paramount to ensuring countries are able to meet their targets successfully and on schedule. One of the most impactful moments of this year’s conference came not from a world leader, but rather from a 15-year-old environmental activist, Sweden’s own Greta Thunberg. Ms. Thunberg reprimanded world leaders on their continual failure to effectively address climate change, accusing negotiators of abandoning their moral compass, choosing talk over action, and jeopardizing the world’s trajectory for future generations.
Climate change is already leaving a lasting impact on the environment and vulnerable ecosystems globally. Understandably, the construction industry is a key contributor to this. With bullish growth forecasts over the next decade, the construction industry can play a pivotal role in combating climate change. Too often however, our own industry’s perception has been clouded by fossil fuel consumption and renewable energy production.
In the wake of COP24 it is more apparent than ever that the construction and building sector must address operational emissions from buildings, the exploitation of raw materials and the excessive transportation of resources. Three primary issues, which if properly addressed, can drive the shift towards zero emission buildings by 2050, a target that has been adopted by several cities and businesses worldwide.
The construction and building industries are as ubiquitous around the globe, as they are vital to supporting the demands of growing populations. According to the World Resources Institute, buildings consume an estimated one-third of global energy consumption, a statistic which also accounts for the raw materials used during their construction (WRI, 2018). As a result of a successful COP24, coupled with the public’s growing understanding of the urgency around environmental issues, many industries are changing. These changes are backed by governmental incentives and socioeconomic pressures, moving businesses and countries to evaluate their impact on the world. This has been reflected in the United States, with the ascendancy of the green building movement and the incorporation of rating systems such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (“LEED”), GreenStar, Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (“BREEAM”), and Energy Star.
SO HOW DO WE HELP
First, we can start by understanding what sustainable development is – development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations to meet their own needs (Brundtland, 1987).
This signifies that the most sustainable action we can take is not building new, more efficient buildings, but rather to use existing /historical buildings and adapt them for reuse. While this may not be possible for all projects to meet growth demands, the next best solution as an industry is a shift towards sustainable structures, commonly known as ‘green buildings.’
Green buildings are characterized as maintaining the rigorous standards of raw material procurement and construction best practices, while implementing design features to promote natural light, and the alleviation of heating and cooling demands, all while considering the entire lifecycle, operation and maintenance of the facility. These types of buildings are designed to reduce carbon emissions and greenhouse gas production by conserving energy and water, improving indoor environments, and improving air quality. Attaining these sustainability goals are illustrated/accomplished via several defining features. Sustainable buildings often boast rooftops fitted with solar panels to generate clean energy or source their energy from other renewable sources. They can also feature rooftop gardens which manage storm runoff, alleviating irrigation demands, reducing “heat island” effect, increasing insulation/ weather-proofing, and can even act as an area of respite for local residents a.k.a. “critters.”
Ideally, materials used in green building are not raw sourced, but rather they’re completely recycled or reused to reduce the carbon footprint impact from the transportation or excavation of resources therein. The recycling of building materials, both during construction and the demolition and decommissioning phases of a project is often overlooked. Legitimate green building practices focus on the diversion of nonhazardous materials to landfills by recycling construction waste and reusing materials at the end of the building’s life. By reusing or recycling materials, our industry is minimizing a building’s footprint by utilizing waste that would otherwise end up in landfills. These buildings are generally built on brownfield sites to maintain existing natural landscapes and reduce new infrastructure demands while also emphasizing efficient energy use via plumbing, irrigation (reducing water usage via rain harvesting, blackwater and greywater treatment), and heating and cooling efficiencies. An added value of sustainable buildings is also the positive impact on resident’s health by reducing pollutants in the air, allowing more natural light into facilities and promoting greenery as areas of respite.
In the US, according to the Environmental Information Administration (“EIA”), buildings are responsible for roughly 40% of the nation’s electricity consumption (EIA, 2017). During a green building’s e-operations and maintenance phase, an emphasis is placed on the monitoring and management of HVAC systems to continually strive to reduce energy use in the facility, something that poses as a huge opportunityforPublic Private Partnerships to implement, as they have the ability to mitigate pain-share/gain-share mechanisms, promoting responsible energy and water consumption standards in two spheres of influence. In a promising trend, the green construction movement has been gaining traction, as over the past twenty years common practices have evolved from a fringe movement to an industry standard. This is in accordance with a recent study conducted by Booz Allen Hamilton (on behalf of the USGBC noting spending in the sustainable construction industry is predicted to rise (ConstructConnect, 2016).
The year 2078, I will celebrate my 75th birthday. If I have children maybe they will spend that day with me. Maybe they will ask me about you. Maybe they will ask why you didn’t do anything while there still was time to act. You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes.
World Green Building Council’s take on our industry as a major contributor to fossil fuel consumption:
The recent IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report removes all doubt: the building and construction sector must decarbonize by 2050 to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Sustainable development as defined by the 1987 Brundtland report:
Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations to meet their own needs.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says:
Globally, 28% electricity use is tied with the transportation Sector as the largest contributor of Greenhouse Gas Emissions.
Construct Connect says:
Spending in the sustainable construction industry is predicted to rise from $150.6 billion in 2015 to $224.4 billion in 2018 that between 2015 and 2018, green construction will generate $303.4 billion in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), support 3.9 million jobs and provide $268.4 billion in labor earnings.
Green Buildings, Sustainability and Climate Change should no longer be sidelined.
It is up to all of us as industry leaders to compel suppliers, developers and clients to create an infrastructure for developing projects with the environment as a priority, not as an afterthought.
The construction industry has a large role to play in mitigating the adverse effects of climate change. With global population growth on the rise, and an expected population of 9.7 billion people by the year 2050, resources will continue to become scarce. The construction industry has a unique opportunity to not only ensure access to housing, infrastructure and education, but to minimize our land use and maximize our resources by recycling and implementing renewable resources when available. In order to keep pace with global standards, we must adapt and evolve. Despite previously cited recent improvements, our industry still has a long way to go in positively impacting progress towards a more sustainable world.
As a company, we are calling on all construction and building leaders to join us in urging everyone in our community to accelerate their efforts to address their total emissions impact. We believe with mounting global pressures for countries, industries and organizations to transparently report on their greenhouse gas emissions, overall energy consumption, diverted waste to landfill and water consumption, our industry is obligated to take the necessary steps to ensure that we do not disappoint Ms. Thunberg and her call for action.
WT Partnership is one of the fastest growing advisory firms in North America. WT was founded in Australia back in 1949, WT is known as the oldest start-up in the industry and has been a force in North America since 2015. Ranked in the Top Two Global P3/PPP Technical Advisory Firms by Inframation in 2017/18 and WT currently manages $6.5 billion dollars of active mega projects across North America.
Construct Connect (2016) Green & Sustainable: Building for the Future, Available at: https://www.constructconnect.com/blog/green-construction/green-sustainable-building-future/ (Accessed: 17th December 2018).Environmental Protection Agency (2018) Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Available at: https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions(Accessed: 15th December 2018).
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (2018) Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Available at: https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions(Accessed: 15th December 2018).
Our Common Future / Brundtland Report (1987) United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development
U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) (2018) How much energy is consumed in U.S. residential and commercial buildings?, Available at: https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=86&t=1 (Accessed: 16th December 2018).
‘World Green Building Council (2018) COP24: Time to address the building and construction sector’s total emissions impact, Available at: https://www.worldgbc.org/news-media/cop24-time-address-building-and-construction-sector%E2%80%99s-total-emissions-impact (Accessed: 15th December 2018).
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