Copenhagen Summit Should Focus on Building Sector

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Some say the United Nations Climate Change Conference, Cop15, should concentrate on the building sector, if delegates want to drastically reduce carbon emissions and add jobs.

"The existing real estate sector is typically overlooked at the climate change table," says Leanne Tobias, founder of Malachite, a green real estate consultancy. "That stance neglects the UN's own findings on the best ways to fight global warming."

Tobias cites the UN's own data showing that building upgrades are among the most effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. After reviewing over 80 studies on buildings and energy use, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change determined that energy efficiency measures in buildings could reduce building emissions by 30 percent from the 2020 estimated baseline. This would eliminate approximately 3.2 gigatons of CO2, or a 7 to 10 percent reduction in 2020 estimated total climate emissions.

Some ways to pull this off include focusing on:
  • Improved building insulation
  • Higher heating and cooling efficiencies
  • Energy-efficient lighting
  • Reduced plug load through energy-efficient appliances

"These strategies rely on proven and easily-applied technologies, whose use would create jobs rapidly," according to George Vavaroutsos, an author of "Retrofitting Office Buildings to be Green and Energy-Efficient," a guide to sustainable building renovation around the world. The book tracks the use of building retrofits around the globe, including China, Australia, the EU, Canada and the U.S. Many projects paid back their costs in less than a year and almost all attained payback in five years or fewer. A sample of U.S. properties paid back their costs in approximately 17 months.

Tobias and Vavaroutsos believe the Copenhagen Summit should incorporate property upgrades into the global carbon trading system. To date, few retrofit projects have been undertaken under the Kyoto framework. As of October 2008, only 10 projects to reduce building energy use were in the international carbon trading pipeline of over 4,000 projects.

The United Nations' Sustainable Building & Construction Initiative has recommended revising the global carbon trading framework to encourage additional participation by the property sector. Recommended reforms include developing national regulations and standards for building energy efficiency and/or sustainable building; developing common baselines and building benchmarks for carbon trading; and instituting the use of performance indicators, such as energy use per square foot or square meter for ongoing monitoring and verification.

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