There has been a lot of talk about the COP 26 conference, formally known as the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, which occurred in Glasgow, Scotland from October 31 to November 13th. The chatter about the conference may make you aware that it occurred, but many may be wondering what this event achieved?
This meeting sets the global agenda for the fight against climate change. However, the policies developed are not legally binding; all parties involved must govern themselves on the agreements. Many world leaders spoke highly of the progress made through this meeting. Others were not happy, like youth climate activist Greta Thunberg, who summarized the events of COP 26 as “Blah, blah, blah.” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also spoke out, saying that this is “an important step” but the outcomes are “not enough.”
It was made abundantly clear by many leaders that global warming must be limited to 1.5ºC as soon as possible, or else there will be catastrophic climate consequences. In order to pursue this goal, nations agreed to cut CO₂ emissions by 45% by 2030. They also pledged to decrease emissions of other greenhouse gases. Methane, which is the cause of over a third of human-generated global warming, was another target; more than 100 countries agreed to lower methane emissions by 30% by 2030. Many leaders spoke about completely phasing out coal as a power source, which contributes to 40% of global CO₂ emissions annually. Unfortunately, larger countries like China and India fought for a “phase down” rather than a “phase out” of coal power. Despite this, 42 countries have set dates to end their use of coal as an energy source, and it is apparent that global public finance for coal power is also nearing its end.
Apart from emissions, there was also a massive agreement by over 120 countries (that contain 90% of the world’s forests) to stop and reverse deforestation and to commit financial assistance to forest conservation as another way to mitigate CO₂ emissions and protect habitats and ecosystems. Restoring ecosystems is crucial not just for nature, but also to support sustainable practices by indigenous people and communities. Economically, there were pledges made to increase the amount of money given by wealthy nations to developing countries to support sustainable growth and progress (without the costly environmental damages sustained during their own development). Along with this, many countries came together with the goal of increasing green jobs, and global green growth that can make clean energy, transportation, and other processes the efficient and affordable by 2030.
How does this all relate to Living Buildings? Projects like the Kern support the Sustainable Development Goals set in place by the U.N., which in turn help provide a road map for sustainable transition. There are 17 goals in place, one of them being “Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.” Green buildings play a huge role in this goal. Whether it is electric heat pumps, renewable energy systems, composting toilets, or water that gets recycled rather than just dumped into a sewer—these elements help the environment and the people within it. These buildings also use local resources to reduce carbon footprint, avoid toxic plastics like PVC, help support green jobs, promote clean energy, and can even allow habitats and ecosystems to grow/regrow. Living Buildings help support 5 other of the UN SDGs. Project Drawdown also gives many examples of how buildings and infrastructure can be improved to reverse climate change, by using retrofitted heat pumps, green roofs, better insulation, and reduction of refrigerants that often are greenhouse gases.
Overall, the conference spoke up many very important points, and there is a consensus over what needs to be done. The issue is whether this WILL get done. And more important is how soon, because it needs to be put into effect rather quickly. There is no time to waste.