COP 28: A COP like no other

COP 28: A COP like no other

Read a recap of this year's COP events and highlights.

COP 28 was a COP like no other. The conference was marked by its size and scale, with the largest ever number of participants spread out across the large Dubai Expo City campus. More importantly, this COP expanded the collective understanding of how climate change intersects with other sustainable development goals—which in the past have been only on the margins. In a welcome development, COP 28 formally recognized the inextricable links between climate and health, climate and nature, and climate and food, among other links, creating the opportunity for integrated solutions to these crises. Further, the COP agenda for the first time formally included cities and states, a critical move for effective climate action.

The atmosphere of COP 28 felt different, too. The sober assessment of the global stocktake seemed to focus attention on the urgency of scaling the implementation of climate solutions, with the objectives of mitigation and adaptation increasingly intertwined. We observed participants from around the world talking about what they are doing now and seeking collaboration to do more. The agenda included all forms of energy, including nuclear and hydrogen.

USGBC engaged at COP 28 on behalf of and with our members, emphasizing our core messages and urging collaboration across all levels of government and the private sector to scale available solutions. In this article, we share some of our highlights from COP 28.

UAE Consensus

After extended negotiations, the parties reached agreement on the UAE Consensus. Remarkably, this COP outcome document is the first calling for a transition away from fossil fuels. The UAE Consensus also includes the goals of doubling the rate of energy efficiency by 2030—resulting from the successful campaign led by Mission Efficiency and supported by USGBC—and tripling renewable energy capacity. These express goals, we hope, will guide the nation parties in developing their next GHG emissions reductions known as "nationally determined contributions" (NDCs) that are due in 2025. Read USGBC’s statement on the UAE Consensus and learn more about the role of efficiency in global goals.

USGBC report launch

USGBC president and CEO Peter Templeton launched the new report "State of Decarbonization: Progress in U.S. Commercial Buildings 2023" with partner Arup at a Buildings Pavilion side event. This event featured Mayor Ravi Bhalla of Hoboken, New Jersey; Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway of Madison, Wisconsin; and the Honorable Brendan Owens of the U.S. Department of Defense, each sharing their approaches to making change in ways that benefit people. The event also featured a panel of representatives of global organizations Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE), Global Buildings Performance Network (GBPN) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) cities division, highlighting their work toward equitable decarbonization of buildings and reflecting on how some of the report themes are echoed globally. Rob Kay of Arup and Liz Beardsley, USGBC senior policy counsel, moderated.

The report was also featured in an in-depth dialogue with GBCI board member and Lendlease Americas Senior Vice President Sara Neff, Carrier Senior Director of ESG Kori Recalde and JLL Sustainability Head Guy Grainger, moderated by Rob Kay of Arup, at the Climate Registry’s Pavilion. The panel touched on the imperative for commercial real estate, how building customer demands are changing to incorporate decarbonization, how to improve data without delaying action and more.

Notable announcements

A major event for the buildings sector was the launch of the Buildings Breakthrough. More than two dozen countries, including the United States, joined this partnership, committing to the vision that resilient buildings with near-zero emissions will be the “new normal” by 2030. At its core, the Buildings Breakthrough is a pledge from countries to collaborate toward net zero and resilient buildings while also taking actions toward the shared vision.

On a similar note, the International Code Council (ICC) launched the Building Capacity for Sustainable and Resilient Buildings initiative, which aims to support governments to enhance their building-related policies and enforcement capacity to ensure the safe, sustainable and resilient development and maintenance of the global building stock. USGBC has joined the ICC initiative as a partner organization, meaning it will assist governments in meeting targets under the program. USGBC also participated in a roundtable discussing next steps for the Buildings Breakthrough. Learn more about the Buildings Breakthrough and ICC initiative.

Other important announcements included:

The COP 28 UAE Declaration on Climate and Health was unveiled. Its purpose is to place health at the heart of climate action and accelerate the development of climate-resilient, sustainable and equitable health systems, with related finance commitments.

The Declaration on the Common Agenda for Education and Climate Change at COP 28 was endorsed by 28 countries. The declaration sets out a clear path for nations to act in three key areas: (1) incorporate education into their national climate strategies, (2) develop climate-smart education policies and (3) bolster financing to build climate-resilient education systems.

The Coalition for High Ambition Multilevel Partnerships (CHAMP) for Climate Action was announced, with an initial 71 countries joining, including the United States. CHAMP signatories agree to enhance cooperation and collaboration with subnational governments (e.g., state and local governments) in the planning, financing, implementation and monitoring of climate strategies, including but not limited to NDCs, national adaptation plans (NAPs) and others. The CHAMP signatories will also hold a global high-level political dialogue on multilevel climate action in the lead up to both COP 29 and COP 30 to share good practices and lessons learned.

The Global Cooling Pledge was launched at COP with participation by John Kerry, U.S. special presidential envoy for climate. The pledge focuses on reducing cooling-related emissions and increasing access to sustainable cooling. More than 60 countries have signed the pledge, which is an initiative led by the COP 28 UAE presidency and the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP).

USGBC events

Hilari Varnadore, USGBC vice president for cities, participated in the Local Climate Action Summit, a first-of-its-kind event within COP hosted by the COP presidency in recognition of the critical role local leaders play in reducing emissions and addressing climate risk. The summit brought together hundreds of subnational leaders. Read Varnadore's recap.

Sarah Zaleski, USGBC chief products officer, held the USGBC press conference at COP 28, highlighting key announcements and activities, and distilling key findings of the "State of Decarbonization" report. Zaleski's remarks explain how USGBC is aligning our resources and programs, including LEED, to meet the urgency of the Paris Agreement targets and achieve resilience and equity.

USGBC partnered with the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE), TCR and Georgetown Climate Center on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change side event, "Partnering on the Path to Net Zero in North America." The event began with a keynote address from Federal Chief Sustainability Officer Andrew Mayock, who highlighted ways in which the federal government is partnering with states and localities to advance national climate and clean energy goals. BCSE President Lisa Jacobson hosted a conversation with Chair Liane Randolph of the California Air Resources Board, Autodesk’s Clemence Arto and Schneider Electric’s John Powers, who shared their thoughts on the role of public policy tools and programs to set a framework for economic development and investment to achieve climate action.

Zaleski moderated a second panel of government officials including Serena McIlwain of the Maryland Department of the Environment; Rep. Alex Valdez of the Colorado General Assembly; Mayor Barbara Buffaloe of Columbia, Missouri; and County Executive Chris Ronayne of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, to discuss the role of community engagement and public-private partnerships in scaling climate action. Watch the event recording.

USGBC held an event at the Climate Action Stage, at the Climate Innovation Zone, with Mayor Errikk Simmons of Greenville, Mississippi; Google Sustainability Lead for AMENA Adam Elman; and Stantec Decarbonization Engineer Ghina Annan. We had a great discussion about how private sector companies can support community climate action with data and analyses, with specific examples such as Google’s Environmental Insights Explorer highlighted. Beardsley moderated.

Varnadore and Deepthy B., GBCI MENA regional director, spoke on a panel at the Expo City Dubai Pavilion to discuss how cities can grow sustainably and improve operations based on international best practices. They joined sustainability experts discussing the latest developments in green certifications, operational decarbonization, policies for accelerating sustainability and biophilic design.

Deepthy B. spoke on the panel titled "Toward Win-Win Outcomes for Climate and Community," hosted by the Lincoln Institute at the Multilevel Action and Urbanization Pavilion. Her remarks focused on how the LEED communities in the region are taking action to reduce and adapt to climate change while balancing their responses with social and economic considerations.

Jing Wang, vice president UGSBC Asia, spoke at the side event "Fostering Empowerment and Resilience in the Building Sector," hosted by Delta Electronics Foundation at the Buildings Pavilion. The session shared how different organizations accelerate decarbonization and resilience work in the building sector through offering holistic education and upskilling programs, establishing guidance and databases, and promoting relevant practices. Yi Chieh Yvonne Chan and Wim Chang of Delta; Tracy Wyman of SBTi; Muyiwa Oki of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA); and Dr. Stefan M. Buettner, chair of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Group of Experts on Energy Efficiency, were panelists. Watch the session.

USGBC was a co-organizer of "Net Zero and Resilient Futures: Navigating Climate Challenges in Urban Development and Real Estate Sustainability," an event at the Buildings Pavilion. Beardsley introduced keynote speaker Brenda Mallory, chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, Executive Office of the President. Following the keynote, Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi, secretary general of United Cities and Local Governments of Africa, shared remarks on the need for resilient buildings and communities, and the challenges in making improvements. The session included a panel moderated by Maliya Lazli, UNEP, with Beardsley; Dr. Buettner; Ryan Colker, vice president, ICC; Remy Kalter, Solar Impulse Foundation; and Alida Saleh, head of sustainability in Middle East and Africa, JLL. View the session.

Beardsley also spoke at an event at the French Pavilion focused on the work of the GlobalABC Adaptation working group, of which USGBC is a member.

Mili Majumdar, managing director, GBCI India, spoke on a panel on "Health, Resilience and the Right to Sustainable Housing" at the Monash University Pavilion, organized by GBPN.

Zaleski joined a panel at the Atlantic Council Pavilion focused on decarbonizing the built environment through building codes and capacity building for implementation and enforcement, along with ICC, the U.S. Department of Commerce and Pakistan. This session centered on Pakistan Engineering Council’s recent adoption of a green construction code, based on the International Green Construction Code, with capacity-building support from the Department of Commerce

At the Concrete Future Pavilion, Beardsley spoke in the session "Building Sustainability Assessment Methods: Critical Ingredient to Decarbonise Built Environment." The session included Andrew Minson of the Global Cement and Concrete Association; Emily Grandstaff-Rice, AIA president, Perkins and Will; Duncan Baker-Brown of RIBA; and Shabnam Bassi, director, sustainable buildings, TERI. Watch the session online.

Varnadore participated in “A Day of Practical Solutions for Sustainable Urban Development” with GBPN and Monash University. In advance of our sessions, panelists produced “COP 28 Experts Insights” videos; Varnadore's video discussing the LEED for Cities and Communities program can be viewed online.

Varnadore also joined a discussion about sustainable cities, communities and climate change at the Egypt Pavilion hosted by the Egypt Green Building Council. She spoke at the Monash Pavilion on how data and metrics can help ensure buildings and cities perform as we need them to.

Recognizing MENA leaders

USGBC and GBCI MENA hosted a special event on the rest day of COP to bring together leaders in the MENA green building community. The event featured remarks from leadership at the host Dubai Chambers and a panel discussion highlighting some of the exemplary sustainable buildings projects in the region. We then recognized leaders in the region including LEED faculty and recent LEED-certified projects.

USGBC, GBCI MENA, AIA and AIA-MENA also collaborated to host LEED x Sustainable Architecture building tours featuring ICD Brookfield Place, JLL Offices and Dubai Chambers, each of which have achieved LEED Platinum certification. The tours were very popular and well appreciated.

Bilateral and small group meetings

The USGBC delegation convened and participated in a number of small group meetings. Varnadore, along with Climate Mayors, ICLEI and the United States Conference of Mayors, convened a group of mayors to discuss their climate plans and opportunities for collaboration with nongovernmental organizations. We met with the Department of Defense; the Green Climate Fund; SBTi; and other organizations. USGBC also joined the "America Is All In" meeting with climate champion Gina McCarthy.

COP 28 also saw the largest delegation of the U.S. Congress at COP. USGBC was honored to participate in several meetings with members of Congress, including a small group with Sens. Ben Cardin, Brian Schatz, Tom Carper, Sheldon Whitehouse and Ed Markey, hosted by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, Ceres and BCSE. We also met with several members of the Climate Solutions Caucus in an informal setting. These interactions help bring attention to the opportunities to leverage policy to create more resilient, efficient places to live, work and learn.


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