Want climate action? Then collaborate, don’t compete

26 Sep 2018

“We are already on an exponential trajectory to a clean economy future, but it’s going to take all of us to ensure it.”

These are the words from one of the world’s authorities on climate change, Christiana Figueres, who spoke at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco last week.

I, our Head of Market Transformation, Jorge Chapa, and over 40 Australians, joined 3,500-plus global business leaders, mayors, governors, activists and a smattering of Hollywood superstars in California as momentum builds towards 2020 – the year when global greenhouse gases must peak and then fall sharply to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Sitting at the midpoint between the 2015 Paris talks and the looming deadline for world leaders to up the ante on climate action in 2020, the conference was the “real economy speaking for itself”, Figueres said.

The science on climate change is sound, the technologies to address it are readily available and financing is being mobilised. Most importantly, “people are ready to be the change they want to see in the world”.

In my 12 years with the Green Building Council of Australia, I’ve attended my share of climate conferences. But this one was different.

Once we would sit through expositions about the potential impacts of climate change – because people still needed to be sold on the scientific evidence.

But this time, as Hurricane Florence pummelled the Carolinas and the Philippines braced for the worst from typhoon Mangkhut, there was no need for evidence. Two storms of this magnitude had never hit landfall at the same time in history.

This conference was about action and our attention was firmly fixed on technology and innovation, on commitments and pathways to emissions reduction. While Trump may have pulled out of the Paris Agreement, and Australia may still be navigating its energy policy, action on climate change is not abating. It is accelerating.

Slow-moving governments cannot stop us from fulfilling the commitments made in Paris. “Last year, with no help from Washington, US emissions fell to their lowest levels in 25 years,” Michael Bloomberg, the United Nation’s special envoy for climate action and co-chair of the summit, told the audience.

“The real action is happening in cities, states and the private sector,” Bloomberg added.

“Those decisions are made by mayors and governors who want to deliver cheaper energy, more jobs and cleaner air. They are made by CEOs who want to save money on energy costs and capitalise on new business opportunities generated by advanced technology.”

A ‘bottom up’ movement alone will put the United States within “striking distance” of its Paris targets, “even with zero support from our federal government”, Bloomberg explained.

“Washington isn't in charge of America's energy production. Consumers are. And new technology is delivering exactly what they want: energy that is cheaper and cleaner than coal.”

During the conference, 40 signatories – including eight members of the GBCA – launched the Global Commitment for Net Zero Carbon Buildings. This commitment, led by the World Green Building Council, challenges organisations, cities, states and regions to achieve net zero portfolios by 2030 or earlier.

Collectively, these signatories – which includes 22 cities and 12 global businesses – have committed to eliminating a cumulative total of 209 million tonnes of emissions from buildings by 2030. That’s the equivalent of taking nearly 45 million cars off our roads for a year.

This commitment is one of many that the GBCA has supported to accelerate the uptake of net zero carbon buildings.

In 2016, we worked with Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council to release the ground-breaking Low Carbon, High Performance report. In 2017, we partnered with the Australian Government to develop National Carbon Offset Standards for buildings and precincts. And this year, we released our Carbon Positive Roadmap, which outlines the steps to decarbonisation through Green Star.

It should be no surprise, then, to see that Australia’s real estate market has once again led the world in the annual GRESB benchmark – an achievement that was explicitly linked with our long-term, strategic approach on several occasions during my discussions in San Francisco.

By working together, we are showing our governments, investors, tenants and communities that net zero buildings are achievable, desirable and valuable.

And by working together, we are showing that climate action is not a race. Collaboration will drive meaningful, long-term action on climate change, not competition.