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COP21 was more than just the coming together of nations to offer fine words on tackling climate change. Last December’s UN summit finally saw agreement on a compelling target for carbon reductions against the background of a growing consensus that man-made climate change would have increasing and irreversible results if not arrested. Although in the aftermath of COP21 there have been mixed views on the positive action which is likely to ensue globally in the current context, the assembled nations achieved a historic commitment to keeping global temperature rises below 2°C.

Some of the notable commitments that I have picked up (I’m sure there are others) are:

  • Just days after the agreement, the Obama administration pulled off a coup extending renewable energy tax credits and effectively engineering an acceleration of the country’s renewable energy boom;
  • China followed shortly afterwards with a Five Year Plan that majored on environmental progress;
  • Canada linked a comprehensive bilateral agreement with the U.S. to crackdown on methane emissions;
  • Sweden edged forward with plans for a carbon neutral economy;
  • Japan revealed plans to accelerate its emission reductions through to 2030.


This Friday representatives from 130 states will assemble in New York to sign the agreement that makes COP21 a binding commitment. This record number of countries putting their name to such an international declaration shows the importance now attached to climate change. Delivering on the promises will be challenging if not onerous for many states to going forward in the context of continued global economic headwinds, although now they have a strong framework within which to achieve it. Although this will not be all of the 196 who attended COP21 in Paris, it will easily achieve the 55 states minimum that the UN requires for it to be an enforceable international agreement, as well as (presumably) representing the 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions required by the UN.

BREEAM has been providing a practical and demonstrable framework for achieving sustainability goals in construction projects for 25 years, helping to influence regulation change and drive industry to push the boundaries beyond mere compliance. This has given adopters of the standard in over 70 countries the tools specific to their markets to help them achieve energy consumption and associated CO2 reductions ever since the first BREEAM scheme was launched in 1990.

A recent analysis of assessment data showed that BREEAM-assessed buildings achieve an average 22% reduction in CO2 emissions. Over the next five years, BRE has committed to work closely with industry to deliver over 9,000 certified buildings which have emissions savings in excess of 900,000 tonnes of CO2. This will represent a major plank in helping the UK and many other nations make substantial improvements in their future and current building stock in order to deliver on the COP21 commitments.

In the light of the fact that UN has not instigated a punitive compliance regime alongside the momentum within the Paris Agreement, innovative and tailored industry-led schemes such as BREEAM will be essential to achieving these global carbon goals on the necessary global scale going forward.


Martin Townsend
About the Author
Martin has a diverse professional background covering all aspects of the built environment from advising UK Ministers when he was an Advisor in Government, to his time as a Regulator in the Environment Agency, or working on construction sites. He works closely with the construction industry bringing sustainability issues alive for companies' right across Social, Economic and Environmental agenda. As Director at BRE he looks to accelerate and broaden the uptake of tools, standard and learning throughout the industry, from component, building and city level, and in doing so, challenge the industry to improve, based on both best practise, but also the latest research.

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