Report from the Global Climate Action Summit

Larry Strain
Global Climate Action Summit Logo

I attended the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) in San Francisco this September as a delegate of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). I also attended two affiliated events – The Carbon Smart Building Day and Climate Heritage Mobilization. I’ve been working on reducing Green House Gas (GHG) emissions from buildings for the last decade or so, and while none of what I learned came as a big surprise, I did come away with a clearer idea of the challenges we are facing and also more hopeful about the potential solutions.

The Global Climate Action Summit brought together people from around the world to, as its organizers said, “Take Ambition to the Next Level.” This was structured (by organizers that included Jerry Brown, Michael Bloomberg, and others) as a time to celebrate the extraordinary achievements of states, regions, cities, companies, investors and citizens with respect to climate action. It was also meant as a launching moment for big commitments from countries, cities, NGOs, companies, and others. The goal is to put society “on track to prevent dangerous climate change and realize the historic Paris Agreement.”
 
The GCAS website states: “The decarbonization of the global economy is in sight. Transformational changes are happening across the world and across all sectors as a result of technological innovation, new and creative policies and political will at all levels. States and regions, cities, businesses and investors are leading the charge on pushing down global emissions by 2020, setting the stage to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century.” Community activists and indigenous populations also called for more inclusive, bottom-up solutions. It was good to see people who usually do not have a voice being heard.

The Carbon Smart Building Day focused on buildings with great keynote talks by Ed Mazria of Architecture 2030 and Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute. Session topics ranged from reducing and storing embodied carbon, to reusing and upgrading existing buildings, to creating highly efficient new buildings. Architecture 2030 introduced the Zero Code and the Materials Palette.

The Climate Heritage Day was about the importance of historic buildings, human culture and indigenous peoples and the roles they must play in addressing climate change. Traditional buildings and cultures have a lot of the answers we need. We also need to reuse and upgrade what we have. Representatives from native peoples from all over the world added their voices and perspectives on climate issues, mitigation and adaptation.

Some key take-aways:

  • Our climate models are too conservative. The effects of climate change on our eco systems – human and natural – are more extreme and happening faster than predicted and are already being felt all over the world.
  • We need to step up our understanding and efforts to adapt to the changes we are already experiencing and design more resiliency into human and natural systems.
  • Many of the solutions needed to reduce GHG emissions – decarbonization of the grid, electric vehicles, divestment from fossil fuels, and many more – are expanding and being adopted at exponential rates. This is exactly what needs to happen if we are to avoid  catastrophic, irreversible climate change.
  • Those most impacted by the changing climate – the indigenous, poor and displaced peoples of the world – have a unique perspective on both the impacts and the solutions and need to have a say in creating those solutions.
  • The situation is pretty dire, but things are also more hopeful than we thought. And we can be part of sharing the leverage points for accelerating positive change.

Larry Strain is a member of Strawberry Creek Monthly Meeting and the Carbon Leadership Forum, Ecological Building Network.