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Trump: what does this mean for green building?

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CEO of the UK Green Building Council Julie Hirigoyen reacts to the seismic US election result in an opinion piece written for AJ sister title Construction News

Julie Hirigoyen, UK-GBC

Amid all of the rhetoric of the US presidential campaign, Donald Trump made clear his thoughts on climate change, at one point labelling it a “hoax” made up by the Chinese “in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive”.

But climate change is not a hoax, and as delegates from around the world gather in Morocco for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP22) this week, there is rising concern about what Mr Trump’s time in office will mean for the future of our planet.

The president-elect is no stranger to the built environment, having made his fortune by developing vast swathes of Manhattan, before expanding his real estate empire across the globe. Indeed, during his rallies, he has labelled himself ‘the greatest builder’.

But despite his self-confidence, there is little evidence of his environmental credentials and he has actively called for large-scale deregulation of the sector.

Global shift

Mr Trump’s scepticism of climate change clearly signals potential to damage progress towards a more sustainable built environment. But there is still hope, because the global threat posed by climate change is much bigger than one man and one job.

It was no accident that the Paris Agreement became international law a week before this election, and across the world we are seeing glimmers of hope and shifts from industry towards more sustainable practices.

In the case of truly global cities, there is often more that binds them to each other than to their individual nations, so there is hope for leadership from city authorities not wishing to be left behind.

As Mr Trump knows, money talks, and in the end, it will be investors that decide the success or failure of global climate action.

Weight of technology

We’re seeing green technologies becoming more affordable and easier to adopt. The cost of renewables is falling and businesses, including US firms like Tesla, are harnessing the commercial potential for sustainable technologies.

Here in the UK there is some movement in the right direction. The UK government is signed up (in principle) to the Paris Agreement, and it’s a case of ‘how’ rather than ‘whether we should’ meet our fifth carbon budget.

There is much work to be done, and at the moment we are not progressing fast enough. But with business and cities driving decarbonisation, I’m optimistic that, perhaps despite Mr Trump’s influence, we can continue to build momentum globally to tackle climate change.

Julie Hirigoyen is chief executive of the UK Green Building Council

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Readers' comments (1)

  • I hope you are right. However, the U.K. Government has back tracked on the zero carbon homes standards which were meant to be adopted through the building regulations this year. They have also had the CfSH method of measurement abolished which makes it difficult for local authorities outside London to stipulate a higher than building regulation standard for new development by condition on planning applications. They are also actively promoting potentially disastrous fracking. They are increasing airport capacity.

    In the meantime there have not been any local and specific announcements regarding increasing the resilience of our country to the effects of climate change. For instance, how are the plans for a new, higher, Thames barrier coming along? How are exposed coastal cities like Portsmouth going to be protected? And what is the grand energy plan? Hinckley nuclear power station alone will not make up the shortfall.

    Hopefully the tidal lagoon at Swansea will proceed quickly. Hopefully solar, wind and additional tidal energy installations will pick up the energy load. Hopefully the price of oil will stay low so that fracking doesn't stack up long enough for renewable technologies to be developed and made so cost effective that they can be used wholesale in domestic installations. Hopefully a technological solution to adapting or changing the millions of domestic gas boilers to renewables can be invented, quickly. Hopefully.

    Is hope, and a confidence in technological advancement and economic sympathy enough. Given the Armageddon alternative I hope so.

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