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USGBC at COP26: Encouraged, But Still Looking for Follow-Through

Nov. 16, 2021
Back from Glasgow, U.S. Green Building Council's Elizabeth Beardsley reflects on the U.N. Climate Conference's successes and setbacks, and the mission that now remains.

By ELIZABETH BEARDSLEY, Senior Policy Counsel, U.S. Green Building Council

COP26 has concluded with the Glasgow Climate Pact, representing progress on several important issues, notably ambition for climate mitigation and acknowledging the need for accelerated action in this decade. USGBC is encouraged by the increased commitments and pledges by countries, subnational governments and the private sector.

These pledges, if collectively met on time, would be closer to those needed to keep warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. However, the lack of follow-through and slow pace of implementation on prior commitments leaves little room for trust. Government and industry must demonstrate leadership through meaningful, near-term action.

This begins with greater accountability through more frequent reporting to underpin the seriousness of these commitments and to drive further reduction of emissions. The COP26 decision outlines necessary details of the Paris Rulebook that govern reporting of outcomes. The decision also calls for parties to update national commitments (known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs) and to make annual updates of the cumulative impact of such commitments.

Critically, the decision calls for parties to accelerate the development, deployment and dissemination of technologies, and the adoption of policies, including rapidly scaling up the deployment of clean power generation and energy efficiency measures. USGBC stresses that without targeted actions and policies, the decision and commitments risk being mere words.

We are encouraged by the U.S. role in the conference and its efforts throughout 2021. The conference also saw new initiatives and signs of progress in the building sector, most notably with unprecedented attention to life cycle carbon in buildings that took into consideration materials and construction. USGBC also recognizes the leadership of cities and states at COP26, who all shared tangible evidence of actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

At the same time, we are acutely aware that emissions in the U.S. are essentially at the same levels as 20 years ago. Emissions from the building sector are increasing globally, as new floor area outpaces improvements in energy intensity, and many NDCs still lack specific policies, or even mention this key end use sector. Evidence-based policies and deep collaboration across levels of government, civil society and the private sector must advance with urgency to reverse these trends. Accountability and transparency must be prioritized.

Adaptation assistance for developing countries needs more attention and action, as does phasing out of fossil fuel globally. We urge the United States to continue to exhibit leadership in these areas.

Young people and indigenous voices on climate were widely credited with keeping pressure on negotiators. We applaud and join their calls for meaningful action. Their leadership underscores the need for the annual COPs to be more inclusive in the future.

On the heels of COP26, USGBC is more committed than ever to leveraging all of our platforms and unique capabilities to drive the transition. Buildings are responsible for almost 40% of global CO2 emissions. USGBC’s LEED program enables green buildings to prove their enormous potential to mitigate climate change through a holistic focus on efficiency and sustainability.

Beyond merely cutting down on energy and resources, LEED rewards projects that get to net zero, or even generate positive energy returns to the grid. We must aim even higher—at the urgent pace needed—to a just future, with resilient and efficient buildings and communities supporting the health of people and the planet.