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USGBC at COP27: Recapping First Week's Flurry of Initiatives

Nov. 17, 2022
Reporting from Egypt, U.S. Green Building Council's Elizabeth Beardsley details a busy, upbeat start to the U.N. Climate Conference's sprawling global event.

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

Week 1 of the 27th U.N. Climate Conference (COP27) came to a close on Nov. 12, with negotiators facing tough issues around climate finance, and civil society focused on solutions. Multiple announcements are coming every day. The pavilions this year are lively, with a growing number of solutions and interests represented.

USGBC is on-site and engaging in conversations with global and U.S. allies and partners. We’ve attended bilateral meetings, including a small room dialogue with Assistant Secretary Geoffrey Pyatt of the State Department. We’re also joining a U.S. business and civil society statement calling for the COP parties to stay focused on the 1.5 degree goal.

President Biden's special address

Friday evening at COP (10:15 am ET), President Biden delivered a special address. USGBC covered the speech in person.

President Biden announced new initiatives to strengthen U.S. leadership in tackling the climate crisis and to galvanize global action and commitments. Here are the key points as stated in the White House press release:

  • Bolstering global climate resilience, including doubling the U.S. pledge to the Adaptation Fund to $100 million and announcing over $150 million in new support to accelerate the President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience (PREPARE) efforts across Africa. These build on the over $20 million that President Biden has announced this year to accelerate PREPARE’s work in Small Island Developing States;
  • Accelerating global climate action, including launching a new initiative to support Egypt in deploying 10 GW of new wind and solar energy while decommissioning five GW of inefficient natural gas generation, strengthening proposed domestic methane regulations in the oil and gas sector that would reduce U.S. methane from covered sources by 87% below 2005 levels, as well as other domestic and international action to tackle methane emissions and advance the Global Methane Pledge, and announcing new actions that would make the United States the first national government to require major suppliers to set Paris Agreement-aligned emissions reduction goals—leveraging the federal government’s over $630 billion in annual purchasing power;
  • Catalyzing investment at the scale required to tackle the climate crisis, including launching new and innovative approaches that strategically use public finance to unlock billions in private investment, such as the “Climate Finance +” initiative that will support developing countries in issuing green bonds, launching the Sustainable Banking Alliance to deepen developing countries’ sustainable financial markets, and making strategic investments that help to mobilize billions in private finance and facilitate the export of U.S. clean technologies;
  • Engaging all of society in tackling the climate crisis, including launching a Climate Gender Equity Fund, an Indigenous Peoples Finance Access Facility, and new exchanges to empower youth across the world to be leaders on resilience and clean energy in their communities.

USGBC events

USGBC’s official side event with The Climate Registry and Georgetown Climate Center focused on U.S. state and local action on climate-resilient infrastructure, spanning energy, transportation, buildings and water. Liz Beardsley, USGBC's senior policy counsel, moderated a discussion with local government leaders:

  • Mayor Sam Liccardo of San Jose, California, highlighted the city’s carbon-free electricity through joining the clean energy choice program, work to develop renewable energy microgrids, and progress on all-electric buildings and preserving green space;
  • Mayor Errick D. Simmons of Greenville, Mississippi, spoke about the climate change impacts felt by residents and businesses along the Mississippi River and his efforts to employ nature-based solutions to support a healthy river system and resilient, livable city.
  • Commissioner Pam O’Connor of L.A. County, California, talked about plans from Los Angeles City and County that center on equity in transportation and climate.

Another panel featured Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo (Maryland), Leah Laramee of Hawaii, and Commerce Secretary Bradley B. Chambers (Indiana) discussing state activity.

Indiana Gov. Eric J. Holcomb gave the session keynote and shared how his state, the leading one for manufacturing, has acted on the clean energy transition as an economic opportunity, pursuing innovative technologies. The state invested in converting existing energy infrastructure to green hydrogen, in partnership with local universities; is supporting its auto manufacturers in making EVs, as well as working with bipartisan governors to develop charging networks; and investing in the Mammoth Solar Project—at 1.3 GW, the largest solar array in the U.S. Holcomb has made a splash at COP27, talking about what Indiana has achieved by making the decision to gain a competitive advantage in the new clean economy, rather than be left behind.

  • Listen to the author's description of COP26 last December on HPAC On The Air.

Beardsley also spoke at a session hosted by the Egypt Green Building Council on "The Adoption of Net Zero" at the Civil Society pavilion, focusing on the role of policy along with private sector leadership.

Announcements and launches

The U.N. High-Level Expert Group issued a new report calling for specific accountability with net zero pledges: "Integrity Matters: Net Zero Commitments By Businesses, Financial Institutions, Cities and Regions." The Expert Group report is “a how-to guide to ensure credible, accountable net-zero pledges,” focusing on four key areas: environmental integrity, credibility, accountability and the role of governments. Among others, the report recommends: “[i]n order to ensure rigor, consistency and competitiveness, regulators should develop regulation and standards in areas including net zero pledges, transition plans and disclosure, starting with high-impact corporate emitters.”

Global Status Report released

On Wednesday, the U.N. Environment Programme and Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction released the 2022 Global Status Report on Buildings and Construction. The data show that after the COVID-19 pandemic, building energy use hit an all-time high. With this news confirming the sector is not on track, we are focused on our core message: we have the knowledge and technology to do better, and we are working to enable scaling, to pivot to every building being on the path to decarbonize.

Buildings Pavilion

In the Buildings Pavilion, sessions spanned wide-ranging topics such as net zero building and engaging stakeholders. A session focused on resilience brought a lively discussion about the need for more training of architects and engineers in resilient design, as well as tools to consider future conditions.

In another event, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development launched its new tool, Climate Drive, aiming to provide a comprehensive source for actionable decarbonization and information to guide organizations on their net zero path. The open-source tool is in its beta stage online and is aimed at companies of over 500 members, nonprofits, and hard-to-decarbonize industries. The tool's key features are Action Library, Net Zero Guidebook and Progress Review.

Cement and concrete decarbonization

The First Movers Coalition formally expanded Nov. 7 when it announced the addition of the cement and concrete industry, bringing the number building sectors to three (with steel and aluminum). The First Movers Coalition was launched at COP 26 and is a flagship U.S.-led effort focused on hard-to-abate sectors. The coalition leverages commitments from buyers for lower-carbon products to incentivize suppliers to decarbonize. With this week’s announcement, member companies committed to purchasing at least 10% low-emission concrete and cement per year by 2030.

The buildings pavilion hosted an informal gathering of major global cement and concrete companies, including USGBC member Holcim, and remarks reflected optimism that technologies including alternative fuels and raw materials, reduction of clinker content, and other approaches will enable carbon intensity to be cut by 50% prior to adding carbon capture. The increase in SBTI-compliant net zero road maps by cement and concrete companies was also noted. In conversations, several global concrete companies cited the Inflation Reduction Act’s Buy Clean provisions as a significant signal to the industry.

Global finance is a focus

Finance is a dominant topic at COP 27, in negotiations and side events as well as throughout the halls. On the negotiation front, there’s agreement that much more involvement of investors is needed, along with much more resources. Negotiators are trying to make progress at this COP, with questions on whether the outcome will be substantive or procedural.

Additionally, the accountability of finance and drivers of climate investment continue to receive attention. At a session hosted by CeresCDP and others, the Global Investors Statement was a theme emphasized as a key guide and means of communicating support for better policy on financial disclosure of risks. Speakers from investment firms and organizations pointed to the SEC proposal for climate-related financial disclosure and the importance of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures and International Sustainability Standards Board standards as key drivers to help investor define opportunities and track progress. Experts agreed that data is the biggest tool investors have.