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Buildings Day calls for open data platform to drive global building efficiencies

Celebrations as COP 21 finishes and an agreement is struck.
Celebrations as COP 21 finishes and an agreement is struck.

The first COP Buildings Day was held amid a flurry of activity including news of support for limiting global warming to 1.5°C and a high-level address by Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop..

Coordinated by the United Nations Environment Programme, Buildings Day provided an opportunity to launch an unprecedented alliance of global organisations collectively committed to catalysing stronger collaboration for action against climate change. Events like these allow the broader built environment community to actively support the Parties in meeting this ambitious commitment to limit warming to 1.5°C.

The beauty of the alliance established by UNEP and the French Presidency of the COP, is that it enables collective action so desperately required from a sector that is responsible for over 75 per cent of human produced greenhouse gas emissions.

Indeed, UNEP publications circulated within the venue repeatedly referenced the above statistic. This accompanied an event-wide call to action noting the built environment is responsible for 30 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and 81 per cent of electricity consumption in North America and Europe.

It’s clear the built environment has a huge role to play in the transition to a global green economy.

As put so succinctly by Edward Mazria, founder and chief executive at Architecture 2030: “This is either a huge opportunity or we will lock in energy consumption and emissions patterns for the next 80-120 years… and that is the critical role the building sector plays.”

A collective call to action

For the international built environment to get this right and seize this opportunity, collective action and global unity is essential.

In her opening address to the plenary, director of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership Sandrine Dixson-Declève pleaded that “it is only together that we will start to have a complete change in the built environment that is in need of an entire value change”.

Better more transparent data

While there are obvious reasons why joint action is so important, including collective investor buy-in, evolving policy frameworks and technology finance, one idea shared during Buildings Day spoke to the technical requirement for better access to building data in order to better quantify and implement these required changes to energy efficiency.

In years past – as framed by previous discussions at earlier COPs – data concerning buildings’ energy use (and carbon emissions) was hard to attain. Some 28 per cent of 2015 GRESB respondents failed to report any data, showcasing the ongoing struggles some funds have when it comes to collecting non-financial data. This makes it harder to improve energy efficiency and reduce consumption, with both financial and environmental consequences manifesting from poor data collection and management.

This raised the question as to whether enough is being done globally to bridge this data gap?

Speaking on behalf of Climate Strategy, chief executive Paul Sweatman spoke of the need for the creation of an open and transparent platform capable of monitoring all buildings’ energy use.

This somewhat radical idea could create a platform capable of recording and storing not only an entire fund’s data, but the entire consumption patterns of all buildings within a city, creating easy comparisons between competing management organisations, both nationally and abroad.

This idea borrows from the COP’s creation of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (aiming to hold all Parties to a Paris Agreement) to the same set of accounting principles and establishing clear and consistent baselines for emissions reductions targets.

Mr Sweatman contended that such a platform would conceivably allow for consultants and technology companies to make open tender pitches, aimed at further reducing energy consumption and its associated impacts on the climate.

Considering the many existing reporting mechanisms operating both nationally and internationally – including NABERS, CDP, GRESB and Green Star, in addition to Funds’ internal sustainability reporting – the data is already somewhat publicly available. Thus is it perhaps not too far of a stretch to compile it on one central, readily available platform.

Given the number of executive financial officers in the room, the discussion quickly turned to the financial implications of such a platform. Some even raised the potential effect this would have on auditing accountancies, whose services (and fees) might no longer be required should a transparent database continuously be updated and maintained.

It was Pierre Georges, director and financier at Standard & Poor’s, who boldly called for such reporting to become mandatory.

Could a new set of regulatory competencies be enough to ensure a transition to such a mechanism?

The public sector might initially commit to such a venture, creating sufficient data to act as bedrock, thereby providing the certainty and stability required to encourage private investment.

An impressive example of such a venture is the 2014 Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilience and Safer Communities second report, which calls for an open data platform for natural disaster resilience investment.

This is a similar mechanism used to encourage investment in the renewables sector in Australia, with agencies such as the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency instigating greater investment in clean energy technologies. Should governments lead via their actions – as indeed they have been doing within the broader context of COP – rather than reshaping and restricting policies, investment will follow.

Returning to a collective call to action

A common theme at COP was that the world is on the cusp of a climate crisis.

At COP 21, it was no longer merely the environmental NGOs championing this moment as an opportunity. The collection of mayors, business executives and policy experts present at Buildings Day were equally as optimistic that the coming years present a huge chance to fast track transition to a global green economy.

We are indeed the first generation to feel the effects of climate change, and likewise, the last capable of averting its most tragic impacts. The built environment has a huge role to play in this aversion.

Ian Lieblich is sustainability coordinator at Investa Property Group

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