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What happened in Paris?

In a remarkable moment for the building decarbonization movement, 70 countries signed the Declaration de Chaillot in Paris on March 8, promising to center buildings in their national climate policies. The agreement commits its signatories to systemic, sufficiency-first strategies and endorses a raft of regulatory, financial, and private-sector tools to achieve them.

Members of the Architecture 2030 and Climate Heritage Network Delegations.
Members of the Architecture 2030 and Climate Heritage Network Delegations.

The Declaration was the key outcome of the Buildings and Climate Global Forum (Forum Mondial Batiments et Climat), hosted by France and the UN Environment Program. Jokingly dubbed “the Woodstock of building decarbonization” by a colleague, the two-day meeting (and several pre-events) was attended by over 1,000 invited government, non-profit, and private sector leaders. Their goal: give substance to the Buildings Breakthrough at COP28, and endorse a framework to achieve decarbonization and climate change resilience in the buildings sector.

Author Lisa Richmond (far right)  with colleagues Lindsay Baker (ILFI), Lori Ferries (Architecture 2030) and Anne DeKeukelaere.
Author Lisa Richmond (far right) with colleagues Lindsay Baker (ILFI), Lori Ferries (Architecture 2030) and Anne DeKeukelaere.

For Architecture 2030, the Forum marked a full circle moment, starting with Ed Mazria's efforts with the Paris Agreement at COP21 to put buildings on the radar of the UN climate talks. Those modest 2015 efforts led to the formation of the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction and eventually the launch of the Buildings Breakthrough, a recent addition to the UN Breakthrough Agenda, designed to build the whole-economy collaboration needed to accelerate international climate action.

Success was not inevitable

An ambitious agenda to cover 20 topic areas required organizations across the global to collaborate, and quickly. With barely two months to organize, the planning process often felt chaotic and haphazard. Our Architecture 2030 team (Vincent Martinez, Lori Ferriss, Kelly Alvarez Doran, Prem Sundharam, Rosie Paul and myself) - involved in sessions on heritage and reuse, sufficiency, urban planning, life cycle analysis and bio-materials - was alert to the possibility that big moneyed interests would unilaterally set and control the table.

That skepticism proved to be unfounded. The Forum largely lived up to its aspirations, convening a broad spectrum of public and private sector leaders from across the value chain to address the systems that design and deliver buildings and cities, including stakeholders from the global south and north.

Not just talking to the choir

Most notably, the Forum side-stepped one of the key challenges advocates typically face: getting outside our own echo chamber. Invited stakeholders included the usual suspects, yes, but also elected officials, ministers, investors and business leaders, underscoring the importance of radical collaboration. “Our key challenge is fragmentation, when what we need is radical collaboration,” noted Jo Da Silva, Global Sustainable Development Leader at Arup. “What we can do is limited unless we can join hands with other people.”

Refreshingly the Forum paid significant attention to vernacular and informal development. Eighty percent of buildings will be built in emerging markets, according to Jamie Fergusson, Global Director of Climate and Business at the World Bank. “The informal sector is a huge overlooked opportunity,” noted Nasra Nanda, CEO of the Kenya Green Building Society.

Confronting global disparities

Author Lisa Richmond with members of the Sufficiency session.
Author Lisa Richmond with members of the Sufficiency session.

“The Declaration de Chaillot is a beacon of hope to developing states, who are subject every day to climate hazards, despite our negligent contributions to greenhouse gas emissions,” declared Niuava Eti Gie Malolo, Associate Minister of Transport and Infrastructure for the Government of Samoa. I hope that’s true, but the Declaration in its current form largely fails to address Climate Justice.

Despite calls for "rights-based, place-based, demand-side, people-centric climate action" (Andrew Potts, Climate Heritage Network), the Declaration fails to fully integrate the cultural dimensions of climate change, global resource and consumption disparities, and the value of traditional knowledge as useful technology for climate action.

“The Paris Agreement requires us to question our practice of building ever more and to prioritize the true needs of people,” according to Christophe Rodriguez, Director of the French Institute for Building Performance. To build less but build better, future iterations must reframe decision-making as a necessary and equity-driven re-allocation of our remaining carbon budget.

What comes next?

The Forum's most significant outcome will be its impact on the COP process. As countries prepare to deliver their next round of Nationally Determined Contributions in 2025, COP30 host Brazil is already making plans to hold a second Buildings and Climate Forum. The hope: that “this declaration is a complete script for how we go from our global pledge at COP to concrete implementation,” says Paula Pinho, the Directorate-General of Energy with the European Commission.

The Forum will also inform the work of several global working groups, including the Cool Coalition and the Sharm El Sheikh Mitigation Ambition and Implementation Work Programme. Architecture 2030 is exploring how to elevate Sufficiency, or demand-side policy and practice measures, as a hub of the Sufficiency First Coalition, launching in the EU in May. These initiatives will carry forward the momentum generated by the Forum, driving progress on key issues and ensuring that the commitments made in Paris translate into tangible action.

The views and conclusions from this author are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine.

Read more on building a greener world: A Letter to Architecture From Landscape Architecture |10 Transformative Principles | Caring for the Buildings We Have| Putting Decarbonization Back on the Global Stage | Now Is the Time for Radical Collaboration| Can We Halve Carbon in the Built Environment? | The Race to Decarbonize Buildings Is On.| Building on the Best of COP27

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