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Green buildings take centre stage at the ‘Action’ COP22 in Marrakech

Yesterday, on November 10, the second Buildings Day at a UNFCCC COP (Conference of Parties) took place in Marrakech. As with the first Buildings Day at COP21 in Paris, last year, the day was a triumph for the green building movement – uniting countries, companies, cities and Green Building Councils from around the world and the MENA region to galvanise action and support for green building as a critical solution to combat climate change.

While similar to the first Buildings Day, Marrakech was different for three reasons.

1. COP22 as the ‘Action COP’ – COP21 was focused on generating support for the signing of the Paris Agreement. Now that it is in force, COP22 has been dubbed the ‘Action’ COP – it is less about wrangling over specific text in a treaty, and more about what steps we all will take immediately to meet the terms of the treaty, and to close the emissions gap (the difference between meeting the Paris target of  2/1.5 degrees of global warming and the current projections in line with countries’ Nationally Determined Contribution (NDCs) which project to 3.4C of warming).

WorldGBC and its members have demonstrated at this Action COP that we are working hard to meet the commitments made at COP21 last year; 11 GBCs up from three last year have committed to introducing net zero certification; 1,000 major actors on renovation have been convened by GBCs across Europe through the BUILD UPON project; and GBCs from Colombia to the UAE continue to advance individual plans such as sustainable housing and technical guidelines for retrofitting.

2. Changing politics globally – Second, on the eve of the US election, it is clear that politics are changing around the world, and some governments which ratified the Paris Agreement are no longer in place. In recent months, we have also seen the UK decide to leave the EU, which leaves climate legislation in the UK uncertain. And more elections are to come. But these changing political winds should not and will not slow us down as a green building movement – in the words of the USGBC CEO  “Green buildings are not, and have never been, a partisan issue”We must work harder to clearly prove the business case, the health and wellbeing, and the social and economic benefits, and the case for climate action. And we must continue to work with those demonstrating leadership – countries, cities, companies – to help show the way.

3. Country Governments have joined the Green Building Movement en masse – Last year, countries joined together at Buildings Day to share their own buildings strategies and policies, but also to learn more about the global green building movement and the WorldGBC, its member Green Building Councils, and their members. Now, more than 22 countries have joined the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (GABC), in which WorldGBC plays a central role. This year, WorldGBC was contracted by UNEP – which hosts the GABC secretariat – to help organise parts of Buildings Day and surrounding events, and to involve the local GBC – Morocco Green Building Council – in organising the event but also capacity building and strategic development of a plan for the MENA region. According to the GABC Global Status Report, launched yesterday, 90 countries now include some mention of building sector actions in their NDCs.  Through the Alliance, WorldGBC will continue to work with member GBCs to strengthen relationships with national governments, and create partnerships that support implementation of countries’ NDCs.

It is undeniable that action is taking place, and the ‘Action COP’ and its Buildings Day has proved this. But the need for further and faster action is urgent. We only have hundreds of net zero emissions buildings globally, but we need hundreds of millions. The Sustainable Development Goals have been launched, but we need better evidence and action on how green building can benefit not just the climate, but the wider development agenda. More countries – through the GABC – have joined the green building movement, but we need every country, as well as every city, and every company to also join us. And while we have a Paris Agreement, we have not yet secured a 2 degree future through current commitments. So as a movement, the action from this COP must continue – and we will not stop until we have achieved green buildings for everyone, everywhere.

Terri Wills is CEO at the World Green Building Council