Global Property Sustainability Perspective — Reflections on Rio+20 and Doha Summit Printer Print
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Reflections on Doha Climate Summit

The annual UN Climate Summit, held this year in Doha, Qatar, ended a couple of weeks ago. There were four main outcomes that form part of what is called the Doha Climate Gateway and that were agreed by the 194 participating nations:

  • The Kyoto Protocol, the developed countries' pledge to cutting greenhouse gases, has been amended and will now extend to a second commitment period starting on 1 January 2013, for a duration of 8 years, until 2020
  • Governments have agreed to establish a universal climate change agreement by 2015 covering all countries and coming into force in 2020.
  • The Green Climate Fund , a financial mechanism adopted during the Copenhagen summit in order to fund developing nations' needs for climate change mitigation and adaptation, has official headquarters in Songdo, South-Korea, and will be operational from the second half of 2013.
  • Developed countries have confirmed their commitment to continue long-term climate finance support to developing nations, mobilizing
    $100 billion by 2020.

While the extension of the Kyoto Protocol is a great achievement and one of the objectives dating back to the Copenhagen summit, it only covers 15% of the global carbon emissions, as some of the major economies are still not part of it, such as the United States, or are opting out, such as Russia, Canada or Japan.

One of the interesting results of the summit, though, was the mentioning in the official negotiations of the phrase "loss and damage" that could be caused by the effects of climate change and that may lead to financial help impacted nations will receive from developed countries.

Overall, progress on fighting climate change and getting ready to adapt to its negative effects was still slow. Discussions and negotiations were taking place at levels that have only indirect effects on the real estate sector.

It is up to national legislation concerning energy efficiency requirements for new and existing properties and market driven tools such as green building certifications that keep us going in the right direction and that can make the property sector part of the solution in fighting climate change.  

Global Sustainability Summit Rio+20: Implications for real estate


The UN Conference on Sustainable Development, ‘Rio+20', took place in June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, marking the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Earth summit.

The Conference focused on creating a green economy and an institutional framework for sustainable development, with three primary objectives:

  • To secure renewed political commitment to sustainable development
  • To assess the progress and implementation gaps in meeting already agreed commitments
  • To address new and emerging challenges

With some time having passed since the June Summit – enough for careful deliberation - we analyse the impacts that these objectives could have on the property sector, and the role of the private sector at Rio+20 and beyond.

Securing Political Commitment

Governments readily committed to continue implementing the original 1992 Rio Declaration principles. Some Governments also took ambitious new steps - the UK government, for example, committed to exploring how natural assets, such as fresh air and clean rivers, can be quantified in national accounts (‘GDP+') and also announced the introduction of mandatory carbon reporting for its listed companies by 2013.

Governments also asked for commitment from the private sector, and with specific regards to the built environment, sought to promote an integrated, holistic approach to planning and building sustainable cities through:

  • Greener buildings
  • Reduced waste
  • Increased climate resilience
  • Doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix by 2030

Assessing Progress and Implementation Gaps

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) presented encouraging data demonstrating that the move towards a green economy is happening on a scale and at a speed never seen before, with US$180-200 billion of investments in clean energy in 2010, driven principally by emerging economies.

However, The Future We Want, the Rio+20 outcome document, acknowledged that, despite global efforts, "sustainable development remained a distant goal, as development gains have been adversely affected by food insecurity, climate change and biodiversity loss".

Addressing New and Emerging Challenges

Although earlier issues such as volatile energy prices, climate change and biodiversity loss had intensified over the past 20 years, the global financial crisis was identified as the most significant new challenge.

With regards to the built environment, market barriers, lack of awareness, technical capacity and upfront cost were all identified as significant obstacles to realising the potential of energy efficient buildings.

Three Trends for the Private Sector at Rio and Beyond

The private sector's presence was felt much more strongly at Rio+20 than the original Earth Summit, with three trends showing a shift in businesses' views of sustainable development:

Natural capital valuations

Private sector-led initiatives to account for the value of natural resources were launched. One example is the University of Cambridge-led ‘Natural Capital Leadership Compact', signed by 15 global companies, committing to properly value and maintaining natural assets.

A further initiative, the ‘Natural Capital Declaration' was introduced, whereby 39 banks, insurers and investors committed to developing a methodology to integrate natural capital considerations into financial products and services.

Corporate Reporting and Transparency

Although the final Rio+20 communiqué watered down a proposal for large companies to report on sustainability, it still provided a push for voluntary global disclosure of private sector impacts.

Public-Private Partnership Models

Public-private partnership was a key theme, promising to solve specific sustainability problems, including ways to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and to tackle energy access and water supply challenges.

Problems Solved?

Anyone expecting Rio+20 to solve all our environmental and developmental challenges would have been disappointed - global issues are highly complex and resist easy answers. However, the Summit did see real progress in a few important areas.

The property sector, in particular, is expected to make significant and lasting contributions to the sustainable development agenda, through the construction of efficient, environmentally and socially sustainable buildings. As Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said at Rio+20: "The road to sustainability runs through the world's towns and cities. By building sustainable towns and cities, you will build global sustainability".

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