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COP23: where the job of saving the planet continues

This week, world leaders are meeting in Bonn, Germany for the 2017 round of United Nations climate talks, despite the uncertainty from the decision to abandon the agreement. They will build on the success of last year’s Paris Agreement by defining the detailed rules on how it will be implemented. How will the tasks ahead affect the construction industry?

The 23rd Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, known as COP23, will see a much greater focus on adapting the built environment to cope with a changing climate, since extreme weather and rising sea levels are becoming a progressively more prevalent feature of our world, following the past year’s wave of climate-related hurricanes, floods and wildfires.

This means there is an urgent priority to increase both public and private investment in clean energy and transport, in restoring forested areas, and in more sustainable cities.

Local leadership

“The lesson of the Paris Agreement was the selection of a bottom-up approach to solving problems, and we should look for solutions and responses to climate change which are rooted in the everyday lives of the public, rather than relying on the political elite or on negotiations alone,” says Teng Fei, associate professor at the Institute of Energy, Environment, and Economy in Tsinghua University in Beijing.?

Teng Fei

This throws the gauntlet at cities, and so a Climate Summit of Local and Regional Leaders will take place on 12 November and be the focal point for local and regional governments at COP23. It is organised by the ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability) on behalf of the Global Taskforce and will be in the Cities & Region Pavilion.

They are anticipating the broadest coalition that has ever gathered around a UN Climate Change Conference in decades: major networks and initiatives of local and regional governments, such as the Under 2 Coalition and the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy.

With the United States’ declared intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, ICLEI is arguing that the agreement is supported by a growing wave of cities, regions, states, businesses, investors and citizens worldwide, including powerful actors in the USA itself.

They have ‘all been very vocal about ensuring that efforts to curb climate change and prepare communities for the future are in no way slowed or watered down by this’, ICLEI said in a statement.

Yunus Arikan, Head of Global Policy and Advocacy, ICLEI, says that “European and German cities will be highly visible in COP23, giving an opportunity to show this is doable”, adding that “for a long time the climate agenda was focused on investment and was very project specific but now there is a huge concept of municipal budgets and what they can play in the new low-carbon economy.”

With local government being cash-strapped these days, this is giving rise to a new idea about procurement – called innovative procurement.

Yunus Arikan

Yunus Arikan

Mark Hudson, Deputy Regional Director Europe, ICLEI, explains how it works: “In contrast to the old way of calling for bids for a set building project, the purchasing authority lays out instead a need to be met (for example, a constant office temperature of 22°C), leaving it up to the tenderer to propose a creative solution – a so-called output or performance-based specification”.

This gives rise to innovation and cost-saving. ICLEI Europe has developed the Procurement of Innovation Platform, an online hub created with support from the European Commission.

At ICLEI’s Global Lead City Network on Sustainable Procurement meeting in Seoul last year, several European cities explained how this is helping them achieve the Paris Agreement goals. For example, Peter Szegvari, Senior Advisor to the Lord Mayor of Budapest, said the use of green criteria in the procurement process for the lighting of the Liberty Bridge, resulted in the purchase of more than 500 LED light bulbs.

Last month, the European Commission announced a helpdesk and support mechanism for procurers working on large infrastructure projects, and a targeted consultation on stimulating innovation procurement.

Data collection

Taking stock of progress and identifying new opportunities for action in a five-yearly cycle is a fundamental part of the Paris Agreement. COP 23 will set in motion the first of these cycles which will happen during the 2018 dialogue – now called the Talanoa Dialogue.

This will lay the foundations for future work. Transparency and the avoidance of double-counting of greenhouse gas emission reductions will be crucial. Copious amounts of data will need to be gathered and shared in a format that is collectively agreed.

Gathering this data begins from the ground up – from buildings, companies and organisations to local and regional authorities. The effort is being coordinated by the Global Climate Action Champions initiative of UNFCCC.

Their latest summary states that “improved data and information sharing would enable more cities to choose the most cost-effective mitigation strategies, evidence-based and locally appropriate. It could accelerate, with planning and collaboration, the development and implementation of mitigation actions.

“Cities can share knowledge, know-how and experience to replicate initiatives or deploy urban services that result in emission reductions and enhance liveability of cities.”

The summary calls for greater investment in “broader, reliable and more frequent data collection”, including socioeconomic data, and says that “municipalities can play a key role in coordinating incentives, stakeholders, education (especially for women and girls) and training”.

Water

David Hebart Coleman headshot

David Hebart Coleman

For adequate new water infrastructure alone, 100 billion euros a year plus at least another 155 billion euros are needed to renew and improve equipment to adapt and mitigate global warming are needed, says the World Water Council.

The figure – vital to ensure safe water and sanitation for everyone – is backed over 300 organisations including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UNESCO, Water Aid and Women for Water Partnership.

They are urging governments, investment banks and funds worldwide to prioritise financing for adapting and mitigating water infrastructure to increase resilience to climate change effects.

David Hebart-Coleman, an African Development Bank expert on climate change and water, says financing water infrastructure is about climate adaptation: “We believe that most water supply and sanitation actions are climate resilient.”

Worldwide, the total cost of water insecurity to the global economy is put at US $500 billion annually and 80 per cent of countries say they have insufficient financing to meet national drinking-water targets. This situation can only worsen with climate change unless nothing is done, with untold impacts on human health and lives.

But despite the uncertainty created by President Trump, there is huge enthusiasm around the world for the Paris Agreement to succeed.

It will require concerted and collective effort from every citizen of the world, an unprecedented process that begins in Bonn this week and will ultimately determine the fate of the planet.

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