Implications of Global Climate Change Negotiations

UK Sustainability Council_COP21 Roundtable 23rd Nov 15 (2)

With global climate changes negotiations (COP21) taking place in Paris 30th November – 11th December 2015, the UK Sustainability Council brought together three leading voices on the important question of real estate’s role in addressing the global low-carbon agenda. With the atmospherics in the run up to Paris looking positive, the Council was told that a global resolution to meeting the 2° degrees reduction targets seemed possible. All three speakers reported significant progress in awareness and an ability for action on carbon reduction. However, given that energy supplies to existing real estate account for around 30% of current annual carbon emissions, all emphasised that governments would be looking to business leaders to provide innovative solutions to meet tougher reduction targets that might emerge.

Sarah Millar, Head of International Climate Change Engagement at the Department of Energy and Climate Change provided a frank insight into the significant global commitment from 193 countries for Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), submitted in advance of the Paris negotiations. However INDC’s are estimated to still lead to global 2.7 degree increase which is significantly short of the 2 degree target by 2050, even when considering a 50:50 chance of averting dangerous climate change. Miller highlighted that deeper carbon efficiencies will need to be found and Real estate would have a significant role to play on “the road through Paris”.

Millar then briefed the Council on what action would need to be taken afterwards in order to realise any resolutions passed. One of the first issues to emerge was the crucial role all business would have to play in achieving any targets set in Paris. Across the board, once the INDCs were formalised as Nationally Determined Commitments (NDCs) in Paris, they should then be fundable. Real estate leaders and others needed to see these carbon mitigation commitments as investment opportunities and ensure targets are translated into adequately funded practical measures. The UK government, Millar reported, was particularly keen to find business solutions to the challenge of tackling carbon emissions.

Caroline Hill, Head of Sustainability at Land Securities and Richard Griffiths, Senior Policy Advisor at the UK Green Building Council, reported a similar story of growing commitment but from an industry perspective. Hill shared how COP21 is providing a tool for her to focus attention on sustainability issues within LandSec. Key development in the area of LandSec’s energy supply has meant they have secured a commitment to the RE100 campaign and a move towards 100% renewable based electricity in 2016. In addition a renewed focus on innovations in low-carbon construction and further risk-assessing existing assets for potential associated consequences of changing climate have allowed Hill to drive sustainability deeper across the organisation. Griffiths detailed the UKGBC Climate Pledge initiative, a campaign supported by prominent corporations such as BAM, The Crown Estate and M&S. Encouragingly, he disclosed that many firms appeared to have already made substantial commitments before being approached by UKGBC. Both Griffiths and Hill reported a positive trend towards greater transparency with regards to energy efficiency statistics – work that ULI’s Greenprint, GRESB and other portfolio benchmarks are already engaged in.

An audience debate highlighted the point about real estate leadership, how CEO’s and industry leaders had a role to play in maintaining the dialogue, as well as developing new investment opportunities. Only when private demand for ‘green’ strategies and a clear will to engage in carbon issues would the Government be able to commit with more impactful legislation.

Finally, the Council discussed the importance of linking individual business pledges in terms of energy efficiency, to broader national and international carbon targets, linking the practical priorities of business back to the climate science framing of COP21. As Hill, in particular, emphasised, working to express pledges in terms of their direct contribution to overall carbon reduction targets must be an important part of ensuring progress is real and not just emblematic.

The roundtable of November 23rd centred on themes of dialogue, of mutual support and influence across sectors. Policy makers, climate scientists and real estate professionals would all play important roles in turning any resolutions to come out of COP21 into realities. A suggestion was made for ULI with its global reach and diverse membership base to facilitate such important exchanges.

This event forms part of an ongoing programme for the UK and EU Sustainability Councils with follow on meetings planned:

Implications of COP21 and how the Real Estate sector will need to respond to further mitigate climate change.

  1. Last week of January – UK Sustainability Council Forum (TBC)
  2. 2nd February – EU Sustainability Council Day, Paris

Thank you TH Real Estate for kindly hosting the roundtable and we look forward to sharing details of the subsequent event in late January.

Author: Guy Clark, Robinson College

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