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How Can The Building Sector Become Decarbonized? CleanTech, Of Course

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A new UN initiative aims to strengthen international collaboration to decarbonize the building sector and make clean technologies and sustainable solutions the most affordable, accessible, and attractive option in all regions by 2030.

The Buildings Breakthrough was launched this week at COP28. It will spur countries around the world to join forces to accelerate the transformation of the building sector – which accounts for 21% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The goal is to make near-zero emissions and climate resilient buildings the new normal by 2030, and 27 countries have so far pledged their commitment to the Buildings Breakthrough.

The Buildings Breakthrough is part of the Breakthrough Agenda, which provides a framework for countries, businesses, and civil society to join up and strengthen their actions every year in key emitting sectors. It’s a coalition of leading public, private and public-private global initiatives co-led by the Ministry for Ecological Transition and Territorial Cohesion of France and the Ministry of National Territory Planning, Land Planning, Housing, and City Policy of the Kingdom of Morocco.

The Breakthrough Agenda is coordinated under the auspices of the UNEP-hosted Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (GlobalABC), as reported in a press release.

UNEP is the leading global voice on the environment, and it provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations. UNEP provides evidence-based data to inform policy decisions, collaborates with sectors for low-carbon transitions, provides climate finance mechanisms, and aids countries in adaptation and mitigation efforts.

Formed at COP21, hosted by UNEP, and with 290 members, including 41 countries, the GlobalABC is the leading global platform for all buildings stakeholders committed to a common vision: A zero-emission, efficient and resilient buildings and construction sector.

Under the Buildings Breakthrough, the UNEP/GlobalABC secretariat, the International Energy Agency, and the International Renewable Energy Agency will undertake an annual assessment of global progress in the sector, closely aligned with the UNEP/GlobalABC annual Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction.

“The buildings sector is pivotal for future investments due to its cultural, economic, environmental, and social impact,” said Christophe Béchu, Minister for Ecological Transition and Territorial Cohesion of France. “Partnering with the Kingdom of Morocco and 25 other nations, we call for more countries to join the Buildings Breakthrough, and call governments and all stakeholders to join us in Paris for the Buildings and Climate Global Forum in 2024 to collectively work towards near-zero emission and resilient buildings.”

Organized by the Government of France and UNEP, the Buildings and Climate Global Forum will take place from March 7-8, 2024 in Paris. This groundbreaking event will bring together ministers in charge of buildings and construction across the globe, along with relevant stakeholders from the value chain, with an objective to share their expertise and vision for a future where buildings play an active role in combating climate change, and outline effective steps for decarbonization. The Forum will serve as a platform and feature innovative projects and solutions, engage in interactive roundtable discussions, and facilitate networking sessions, encouraging productive exchanges and collaborations in the buildings and construction sector.

The 27 countries which pledged their commitment to the Buildings Breakthrough are Armenia, Austria, Canada, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Germany, Guinea-Bissau, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Liberia, Mauritania, Mongolia, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Senegal, Sweden, Tunisia, Türkiye, United Kingdom, US, and Zambia. Together, these nations represent around 34% of the global population, account for about 51% of global GHG emissions, and contribute to approximately 64% of global gross domestic product (GDP). In addition, the European Commission and 18 international initiatives have announced their support.

“Business, industry and city leaders are already taking action to unlock the climate solutions of the buildings sector,” said Razan Al Mubarak, UN Climate Change High-Level Champion for COP28. “We welcome this strong commitment from governments which will provide the enabling environment to accelerate the sector’s sustainable transformation for everyone, everywhere.”

Dr. Mahmoud Mohieldin and Her Excellency Ms. Razan Al Mubarak are the UN Climate Change Climate Champions for COP28. These two Climate Champions will connect the work of governments with the many voluntary and collaborative actions taken by cities, regions, businesses and investors and help deliver on the mandate to enhance ambition and strengthen the engagement of non-state actors in supporting Parties, working with the Marrakech Partnership, to deliver the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Under the leadership of the Climate Champions, the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action supports implementation of the Paris Agreement by enabling collaboration between governments and the cities, regions, businesses and investors that must act on climate change. Their actions are guided by the long term goals of the Paris Agreement and undertaken in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The focus is on environmental, economic, and social system transformation, promoting higher ambition of all stakeholders to collectively strive for the 1.5 °C temperature goal and a climate-neutral and resilient world.

“UNEP supports the Buildings Breakthrough and welcomes governments’ pledges to near-zero emission and resilient buildings,” said Sheila Aggarwal-Khan, Director of UNEP’s Industry and Economy Division. “We look forward to uniting nations and all stakeholders at the Buildings and Climate Global Forum next year. We are motivated to see frontrunners across the life cycle of buildings and construction delivering on their ambition. Together, we can reshape our built environment, ensuring a greener and more resilient tomorrow to pave the way for net-zero.”

At COP28, UNEP and the signatory governments extended an open invitation to nations worldwide to join the Buildings Breakthrough and unite in this global effort towards near-zero emission and resilient buildings by 2030.

Final Thoughts about Building Sector Decarbonization

Why should you care about decarbonizing the building sector with method and overview? Take a look at the Masdar City, a futuristic urban development zone on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi that was chronicled today by Bloomberg today. It has has failed to live up to its founding promises: the world’s first zero-carbon, zero-waste city — but the promise it held may still be realized with the UNEP Breakthrough Buildings program.

Masdar City had “lofty aspirations (a clean-technology hub powered only by renewable energy) have led to comparably small results (the place is conspicuously empty),” according to Bloomberg. It casts what’s been termed “a long metaphorical shadow over the UAE’s green record,” with political leaders, diplomats, activists, and executives scrutinizing all things UAE this month for the annual United Nations climate summit.

Perhaps the UNEP roadmap below, had it been in existence, would’ve made the difference in the success of Masdar City.

building sector
The roadmaps cover eight themes, including urban planning, new buildings, existing buildings, building operations, appliances and systems, materials, resilience and clean energy, in the quest of harnessing the sector’s enormous opportunities for decarbonization

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack:

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