What does COP 21 mean for building professionals?

Photo courtesy PIMA

By Jared O. Blum
Much attention has recently been given to the negotiations in France that resulted in the unprecedented Paris Agreement to combat climate change. This agreement, which limits the global average temperature rise to “well below” 2 C (3.6 F) compared to pre-industrial temperatures, will move designers to elevate new and existing building performance in two distinct ways: construction and resilience.

For the first category, governments and the private sector will seek to construct and retrofit buildings capable of mitigating the emission of climate-related gases. For the second category, they will also construct in such a way that the buildings and their infrastructures have the resilience to perform under changing, and in some cases, adverse climactic conditions.

The Paris Agreement
At a macro level, the world’s first universal climate agreement appears abstract. So how exactly does this impact building designers, owners, and users in Canada?

The international response to climate change was launched in 1992, at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, with the signing of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This was followed by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which set binding targets to reduce emissions 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012.


In the early years of the climate negotiations, three distinct types of delegates have attended the annual negotiations:

  • representatives of industries positioned to sell products and services to the countries agreeing to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and who were generally very supportive of the process;
  • those against a climate deal (e.g. fossil fuel pro-ducers or an amalgam of industry groups); and
  • consultants attempting to sell their services to interests on both sides of the issue.

Fast-forward to the 2015 Conference of the Parties (COP) 21 Conference, the attendee pool was decidedly changed. Corporate CEOs roamed the grounds of the Le Bourget airport conference site. These business representatives were not selling their climate-related technology, but rather were participating in a plethora of workshops describing meaningful initiatives companies were taking to reduce energy use and corresponding climate-related gases. These seminars were also promoting the virtues of these business practices. Whether it was North Face, Unilever, Hewlett Packard, Starbucks, or a building products manufacturer, the common denominator for these companies was the support for a comprehensive climate action plan.

Polyisocyanurate in a roof application—how does the insulation fit into a new paradigm that has been created by the Paris Agreement?
Photo courtesy Firestone Building Panels

Another major change was the designation of ‘Buildings Day.’ This specified date focused on the technologies and practices available to the construction sector. In fact, the role of the building sector in contributing to the achievement of these goals was recognized by virtually all COP 21 attendees, in large part thanks to the Global Alliance on Buildings and Construction. The alliance is supported by the United Nations Environment Programme, 20 countries (representing more than one billion people), 70 leaders from the construction sector, 50 national and international organizations, and professional networks and funders. The countries, representing four continents, include Canada and the United States, along with:

  • Austria;
  • Brazil;
  • France;
  • Germany;
  • Japan; and
  • Morocco.

The alliance’s goals are to:

  • bring together all the relevant global players on a large scale around a common ambition and sustain this momentum to ensure they work together over time;
  • increase the share of green building in international funding to implement new initiatives and increase the visibility of exemplary initiatives;
  • gather a program of operational activities, strategic networks, and partners covering the full range of stakeholders in the building production chain;
  • promote initiatives and solutions by all the members signatory to the alliance to make them reproducible and also ensure their appropriation; and
  • create a network for public authorities in charge of construction, to align regulations and financing toward low-carbon strategies.
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