Monday, November 28, 2011

Dispatches from Durban: Climate Talks Can Impact Green Building Worldwide

Roger Platt
Senior Vice President, Global Policy and Law
U.S. Green Building Council

This is the first in a series of blog entries covering the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP-17) taking place Nov. 28-Dec. 9, 2011, in Durban, South Africa.

Yes…domestic politics do have consequences and we all need to understand the implications of our own important national policy challenges. But no…it is not possible to ignore the larger global issues that are not discussed rationally in the narrow context of our domestic political debates.

The global community has never been as transparently interdependent as it is today. And I know that will be particularly clear for those of us in Durban, South Africa, for two weeks of international dialogue on a future pact to tackle global warming.

In fact, today marks the start of the Durban climate talks, sometimes referred to as “COP 17.” Certainly, many issues under the banner of this UN system appear awfully bureaucratic, foreign and complex—and in fact they are. But some policy decisions under consideration have the potential to channel large-scale financing to green building, energy efficiency and other green technologies aimed at reducing emissions and adapting to climate change - and that’s why USGBC is involved.

Issues I’ll be Watching
One of the topics on the front burner of the Durban talks is the structure of a new system for how clean technology can be scaled up in developing and middle-income countries, such as China, India and Brazil. It’s currently being negotiated to facilitate private-sector expertise and implementation. A lot is at stake here; the United States and other wealthy nations have committed to mobilizing $100 billion dollars per year by 2020 for this purpose. How this technology program is operationalized could provide opportunities for the global green building industry on a whole new scale– including companies in the United States.

Next, there is another tool that has been in place for years to stimulate clean technology projects using the international carbon market. This is another way to channel finance to private-sector companies involved in the energy efficiency and renewable energy sector. It’s not perfect, but experts have been working for years to streamline the program, called the Clean Development Mechanism, to better address green buildings, energy efficiency projects and city-wide efforts. Institutions such as the World Bank, the UNEP Sustainable Buildings and Climate Initiative (UNEP-SBCI) and others have made progress on methodology to do just that – but this program’s fate is wrapped up in yet another thick layer of negotiations which has the world split in two: do we continue with the Kyoto Protocol, or do we negotiate something new altogether to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

USGBC will be joining the World Green Building Council and its delegation of GBC Australia, GBC South Africa and Jordan GBC on the ground for this historic conference. As chair of the advocacy committee for the United Nations Environment Programme’s Sustainable Buildings and Climate Initiative (UNEP-SBCI), I will also be working closely with the public and private sector members of that organization. Durban may indeed present a “fork in the road” for multilateral efforts on climate change. While the Kyoto question looms large for delegates, our position is clear – that no matter what form it takes, delegates must work diligently and transparently to come to agreement on a path forward to reduce emissions; one that incorporates mechanisms like the above to rapidly finance and bring to scale clean technology solutions like energy efficiency.

How I’ll Be Participating
Of course, green buildings can and should be part of the solution. Along with Jason Hartke, USGBC’s Vice President of National Policy, I will be in Durban to advocate that message and follow the progress of the Talks. This year is the largest GBC delegation to attend the UN Climate Conference, and we have a packed schedule of events, panel discussions, tours and meetings. These opportunities in Durban provide a platform for communicating our core messages on green building to an international audience of government, businesses, financiers and NGOs – and we plan on reporting back regularly throughout the end of the conference in our blog series, Dispatches from Durban.

Some places you can find us in Durban are…
  • On panels with our colleagues at Johnson Controls, Ingersoll Rand, the World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and more.
  • Conveying the business opportunity of energy efficiency at the World Climate Summit with Kateri Callahan of Alliance to Save Energy and Jane Henley of the WorldGBC.
  • On the edge of our seats at the press conference for the WorldGBC Government Leadership Awards to see which cities won the award (U.S. cities Chicago, San Francisco and New York are up for consideration!)
  • Filing up on optimism at the Cato Manor low-income green home retrofit tour, where the Green Building Council of South Africa has retrofitted an entire block of low-income homes as a COP-17 legacy project, demonstrating the ability of green building strategies to cut carbon emissions and improve lives.


  1. We can already see that we have not a long wait to come face to face with what happens where the straight superhighway we have been traveling with effortless ease becomes a narrow, curved cliffside passage; for we are the ones who are alive in a pivotal moment in human history, when economic and ecologic systems fail, a global empire (like a house of cards) collapses and self-proclaimed masters of the universe (who are primarily responsible for the colossal catastrophe looming before humanity) take off in private jets and yachts for secret hideaways in faraway places....come what may.

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001
    Chapel Hill, NC

  2. It is almost 2012. Why have many academicians apparently been rendered dumbstruck during my lifetime by what is all-too-obvious? Absolute global human population numbers can be clearly seen skyrocketing since the end of World War II. Are experts playing stupid? Have they been mislead by personal arrogance, extreme foolhardiness and wanton greed or overcome by a lust for influence, privilege and power? Or all of the above? When I was born, 2.3 billion human beings lived on Earth. In a single lifetime of threescore and ten years (1945 – 2015) human population numbers are projected and fully expected to increase by 5+/- billion people. How can so many economists and demographers not see what is happening? Do their professional activities have something to do with science? I say no, definitely not.

    I find much preternatural thought and unscientific research but cannot locate adequate scientific evidence that supports the idea of “human exceptionalism” with regard to the population dynamics of the human species. Although the idea of human exceptionalism is known to be specious from a scientific point of view, because it is of vital importance to ideologues and those who primarily benefit from the way the global political economy is organized and managed, human exceptionalism has not been the subject of sufficient scrutiny by scientists and consequently allowed to stand uncontested during my lifetime. Even today scientists refuse identify the idea of human exceptionalism regarding human population dynamics as the false proposition it is. They remain electively mute when confronted with scientific research that directly contradicts the idea of human exceptionalism. Where is the scientific research to support the idea that human beings are somehow exempted from ecological “rules of the house” in our planetary home, as many so-called experts in economics and demography have regularly and adamantly proclaimed since the time of my birth.

    The family of humanity appears to have been confused and harmed for many too many years by ideologically driven sycophants and absurdly enriched minions of the rich and powerful who have dishonestly been laying claim to scientific knowledge that they have not ever possessed. Demographaphers and economists are not scientists, the imprimatur of the IUSSP and the Nobel Prize Committee notwithstanding. These disciplines never have been fields of scientific study and never will be, at least not until demographic theories and economic models conform to the biological and physical laws of the world we inhabit, laws based upon the best available science. Science is. And whatsoever is is, is it not?

    Extant scientific research of human population dynamics/overpopulation has been consciously and deliberately ignored by scientists with adequate expertise. They have failed to stand up for science and humanity by speaking truth to the greedmongering movers and shakers of the global political economy who rule the world in our time and appear dead set on ravaging the Earth and degrading its environs until the planet is an unfit place for children everywhere to inhabit. If my perspective could somehow be on the right track, then we are bearing witness not only to the greatest failure of nerve, intellectual honesty, moral courage of all time, but also to an incomprehensible loss of capacity to do the right thing, according to the lights each of us possesses.

    If the population dynamics of the human species is essentially similar (not different from or exceptional) to the population dynamics of other species, then the most attractive, widely shared and consensually validated idea of a seemingly magical, automatic, benign demographic transition to population stabilization of the human species on Earth in the middle of Century XXI is a colossal mistake with potentially profound implications for future human well being and environmental health.

  3. A Quartet on Thinking Globally and Acting Locally: