While heads of state, environment ministers, and climate negotiators labored to reach a global climate agreement in Paris, numerous side meetings focused on specific actions that will lead to lasting carbon reductions were in the spotlight.

Buildings were a particular focus, as they are responsible for as much as half of all global energy use and represent vast potential for carbon reductions.

The first-ever United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change buildings day at COP 21 brought together leaders from a variety of disciplines to focus on a specific goal: improve the energy efficiency of buildings on a global scale.

And the gathering had the desired impact. Over the course of the day, building managers, financiers and government officials made a range of commitments that when implemented will result in real, measurable reductions in carbon emissions.

This included over 100 banks, managing a total of $4 trillion in assets, calling for a doubling of energy efficiency by 2030; a global private-public alliance in the buildings sector that will use the 2-degrees-Celsius climate target as an operating principle; and commitments by 150 companies to reduce energy use in their facilities by 50 percent.

The Environmental Defense Fund’s Investor Confidence Project participated in the planning of buildings day. Our role was to help ensure there was a balance of representation from all sectors.

Organized by the United Nations Environment Program and the French Ministry for Ecology, Energy and Sustainable Development, the event featured a full day of panels and speakers on the decarbonization of the built environment.

Ed Mazria, founder of Architecture 2030, kicked things off by making the case for a limit on the rise of average global temperatures to below 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050. Mazria noted that we cannot exceed this limit if we are to have any real chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change.

Mazria then laid out how the global urban environment and the buildings sector, which together are responsible for 75 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions, can lead efforts to reduce those emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

“Over the next two decades, we will be building and renovating over 900 billion square feet of buildings,” said Mazria. “This is the equivalent to 60 percent of all of the current built environment, or like building a New York City and its greenhouse gas emissions every 35 days.”

Next, EDF Investor Confidence Project’s Matt Golden offered his insights on the first panel of the day, joined by the Director for France’s foreign development ministry, the Secretary-General of China’s planning and design professionals trade association, the Climate director of the International Finance Corporation, and the CEO of Majid al Futtaim, a major Dubai-based developer.

Golden discussed how the Investor Confidence Project is unlocking capital for building renovations by creating a new asset class for energy-efficiency projects. This approach increases investor confidence in savings through standardization and data.

Golden covered a range of public initiatives and private innovations addressing the multiple market barriers that have historically impeded the scaling of energy efficiency, highlighting innovations such as pay-for-performance, PACE financing, and the recent WHEEL efficiency loan securitization as examples of progress toward efficient, scalable markets in the United States.

He made clear that “the renovation industry is not lacking capital today. Instead, the near-term focus is on increasing demand and deal flow.”

The discussions of the day yielded a number of new commitments and actions, including:

  • The United Nations Environment Programme Financing Initiative, together with the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, mobilized over 100 banks and other investors, which collectively manage close to $4 trillion, to endorse the G20 Energy Efficiency Investor Statement. This mobilization aims to further embed energy efficiency in those institutions’ operations and investment processes.
  • The Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction, a new private-public partnership of organizations, companies, governments and financiers, is committing to assist countries and their building sectors with the implementation of projects and programs that prevent a global temperature increase of more than 2 degrees Celsius.
  • The World Green Building Council announced that the green building councils of Canada, Australia and South Africa have begun work on zero-energy building certifications. There have been talks of further efforts to form a global approach to certifying bodies guiding and recognizing zero-energy buildings.
  • The Global Environment Facility (GEF) will fund the formation of the Climate Aggregation Platform in 2016, focused on standards in developing economies, leveraging over $100 million in co-financing from different partners, including from the Inter-American Development Bank.
  • The GEF, in partnership with World Resources Institute and UNEP, announced the expansion of the Building Efficiency Accelerator and a commitment of new funding to catalyze energy-efficient buildings in the cities of developing countries. The new efforts engage 50 cities on issues of policy implementation, building codes, project development, and tracking and monitoring of building efficiency.

Talk is easy. But as with all the commitments coming out of United Nations Climate Conference, the real test will be in the level of action taken in the coming years.

We encourage the global energy efficiency community to ensure these efforts yield measurable results.


Panama Bartholomy is director of the EDF Investor Confidence Project Europe, working to connect energy-efficiency renovations with capital through standardized underwriting across the European Union (sister project to ICP in the United States).