News Article
January 29, 2012

UNFCC Progress to Emissions Reduction Commitments

Building Efficiency:  A Solution to Climate Change

At the 17th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-17) in Durban, South Africa, Nov. 28-Dec. 9, 182 countries met to negotiate approaches to reducing global carbon emissions. With colleagues from across Johnson Controls, the Institute for Building Efficiency participated as a business observer. The UN’s climate agenda can include policy action to support energy efficiency, unlocking innovative financing approaches, and structuring technical support into the real estate market – but first policymakers must move beyond examining energy supply strategies to start focusing on delivering widespread efficiency.

The Role of Buildings: Buildings form the fabric of the rapidly growing urban landscape. Many emerging economies are undergoing rapid urbanization, presenting a tremendous opportunity to create more resilient, efficient buildings that also meet economic development and social goals. Buildings use 40 percent of energy globally and are responsible for the resulting greenhouse gas emissions. Yet among the dozens of submissions to the UN stating what policies and actions countries will implement, only 10 mentioned buildings. 

Policymakers around the world can elevate building efficiency as the first, best choice to reduce emissions and create a better future. Policy can help overcome critical market barriers such as lack of access to financing and rebates or incentive programs that improve financial return on efficiency investments. Policy makers can also support local technical assistance – helping build local capacity and economic opportunity in energy efficiency technology installation, sustainable building approaches, and monitoring and commissioning to improve building performance. 

Emissions reduction commitments: The big headline coming out of Durban focused on countries’ emission reduction commitments. At the outset there had been no clarity on what commitments countries were willing to undertake beyond 2012, when the first commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol expires. The agreement reached in December was stronger than many observers had anticipated. In Durban, Europe agreed to a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. This extends legally binding targets, timetables, and market mechanisms for those countries that are part of the Protocol. In addition, for the first time, all countries agreed to take on legally binding emission targets by 2015, with implementation by 2020. While the specifics remain to be worked out over the next several years, this new “Durban Platform” includes, for the first time, major developing countries such China, Mexico, and India alongside developed countries such as the U.S. and European nations. The obligations may vary by country, but over the next several years countries will negotiate a “protocol, or a legal instrument, or an agreed outcome with legal force under the convention and applicable to all parties.” For the official outcomes and documents from COP-17 see the UNFCCC website

Technology and the UNFCCC: The group in Durban agreed on a process that will lead to the creation of the Climate Technology Center and Network (CTC&N). The CTC&N is being designed to provide a channel for both the public and private sectors to provide expertise to developing countries on technology and how to deploy it. In Durban, progress included an agreement on a process for selecting a host institution for the CTC&N. If designed and implemented, the technology center and network may offer support for in-country action on energy efficiency in buildings. However, significant engagement may be required to ensure that energy efficiency in buildings is a priority.

Finance and Low Carbon Development: In Durban, countries worked out many details regarding creation of the Green Climate Fund (GCF). The GCF is being designed to mobilize investment in clean energy technologies in developing countries. Progress included agreement on the makeup of the board and the structure of the fund. The first GCF board meeting was set for early 2012. The GCF board will develop a process to select a host and establish the fund. It is not yet clear exactly how these funds could be used for building efficiency projects. 

National Actions: Countries are already looking for ways to align their national investments, technology initiatives and national policies to deliver “low-carbon development.” Individuals, businesses and governments are seeking approaches to deliver more energy security, better infrastructure and better technology and to meet the challenge of rapid urbanization. For competitiveness reasons, no country or consumer wants to import fossil fuels or pay for more fuel than is needed. And not surprisingly, cost-reduction opportunities and energy security concerns were listed as top global drivers for energy efficiency investments in the 2011 Energy Efficiency Indicator (EEI) Survey. The EEI also found that national policy was a critical driver of on-the-ground action: globally, corporate executives who responded said the second most important driver of energy efficiency investment in 2011 was government incentives and utility rebates. 

To support national actions, the Institute for Building Efficiency released a new report, Driving Transformation to Energy Efficient Buildings: Policies and Actions, at an official side event hosted by the Business Council for Sustainable Energy and the U.S. Green Building Council on Dec. 1.  The paper reviews policy options available for national policymakers to accelerate energy efficiency improvements in the built environment. With national policies in place, governments in emerging economies can access the UNFCCC’s technology and finance mechanisms, outlined above, which are designed to help implement low-carbon actions.

Summary: The UNFCCC negotiations provide an important platform for countries to come together and challenge each other to do more to combat climate change. At COP-17, countries made progress toward a global agreement that has potential to foster more setting of energy and carbon reduction targets, more technical assistance, and more financing mechanisms that will be needed to drive a transformation to energy efficient buildings and a low-carbon future.


January 2012




Related Article(s)