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CONSTRUCTION CORNER: Climate change talks looking up?

Korky Koroluk
CONSTRUCTION CORNER: Climate change talks looking up?

For the first time in several years, I’ve allowed myself to feel some optimism about the possible outcome of international climate negotiations.

In the past, there have been far too many people — and nations — with separate agendas, too many who were protecting specific industries in their home countries.

But for the last two weeks or so my inbox has been filling up every day with what has to be considered good news

The big European oil companies have come out in favour of putting a price on carbon. Some of the world’s most energy-intensive companies, have signed on to the concept of a carbon price.

Recently there came news of something called the China Accord, in which an 52 large international and Chinese architectural and planning firms committed to designing cities, towns, urban developments, new buildings and major renovations in China to low-carbon/carbon-neutral standards. The international firms are well-known. They include ARUP, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Perkins Eastman, Perkins + Will, Gensler, and 19 others.

And Catholic bishops and cardinals from all over the world have said that we all have a moral and ethical responsibility to protect the environment.

All this is leading up to the next United Nations climate conference, which runs Nov. 30-Dec. 11 in Paris. That’s where the international community will try to hammer out an agreement to limit global temperature increases to two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. The objective is to prevent the catastrophic climate events that science says is inevitable if the increases rise above two degrees.

A preliminary conference in Bonn, recently identified one big stumbling block: the insistence by poorer countries that richer nations bear the brunt of financing remediation efforts — partly because the rich nations are responsible for most of the carbon emissions, and partly because the poor countries are, well, poor.

Still, given the broader acceptance that it is time, finally, for a price on carbon, there is reason for guarded optimism. No matter what the deal says, there can be no doubt that the construction industry will be affected. The China Accord points in that direction, simply because it involves architects and planners.

Architects are going to be central because they are the ones in between the construction industry and the purchasers of construction. They are the ones best able to sell the concepts of more energy-efficient buildings, and energy-efficient construction processes.

They will be the ones working with governments at all levels, as cities, provinces and nations ask for more environmentally friendly buildings that produce fewer greenhouse gases.

Ed Mazria, head of Architecture 2030, the American non-profit that organized the China Accord, spoke at the signing and debunked the idea that greener buildings must inevitably cost more.

"There are a huge number of low-cost and cost-saving design and planning strategies that can be implemented to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions," he said.

"The signatories (of the accord) will collaborate on achieving this through training and employing advanced design tools."

A news release dealing with the signing of the China Accord notes that between now and 2030, the world is projected to build 80 billion square metres of new buildings in cities worldwide, an area equal to 60 per cent of the entire current global building stock.

About 53 per cent of all that construction will take place in China and North America. China will account for 38 per cent of it; Canada and the United States will account for 15 per cent.

That’s why it’s imperative that China and North America assume strong leadership roles in the fight against climate change. The strong business interest that has surfaced in the last few months, and the growing realization that there is a moral imperative for reaching a legally-binding climate deal, are reasons for some cautious optimism as we head into the Paris conference.

Korky Koroluk is an Ottawa-based freelance writer. Send comments to

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