Green Construction: An Answer to the Twin Financial and Climate Crises

By Bradbury, Alexandra | Harvard International Review, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Green Construction: An Answer to the Twin Financial and Climate Crises


Bradbury, Alexandra, Harvard International Review


The world currently faces two of its biggest challenges: the stabilization of the global economy and the prevention of climate change. The evident failure of the Copenhagen Climate Conference in December 2009 suggests a lack of worldwide cooperation to solve the challenges of the climate change problem. Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said that the conference "did not produce the full agreement the world needs to address the collective climate change." A clear example is the omission of the goal to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions 80 percent by 2050.

In addition to facing the worrying difficulties presented by climate change--heightened by the disappointing outcome of the conference in Denmark--world leaders also have to deal with the global financial crisis. Under the dual pressures of addressing both climate change and the unstable economic situation, politicians and diplomats are struggling to confront each issue without neglecting the other. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon states that it is crucial to treat both problems with equal attention. In his contribution to the Korea Herald in April 2009, he stated that there was a solution to both the financial crisis and climate change. He claimed that this solution was Green Growth, a strategy that bases the improvement of the country's economy on developing environmentally friendly initiatives that create job opportunities. Referring to it as the "foundation of long-term economic prosperity," Ban added that "today's financial crisis is not an excuse for inaction on climate change." Through Green Growth, according to Ban, both crises could be dealt with in relation to the other.

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Construction is an industry that shows promising development in Green Growth and in promoting financial progress. Nations such as South Korea and several in the Middle East are leading the way forward in new projects of Green Construction. Their projects exemplify an innovative approach that simultaneously addresses both the financial and climate change crises.

A Green Imperative

It is essential for the construction industry to proactively confront climate change as it is a primary contributor to worldwide carbon emissions, accounting for 40 percent of total carbon emissions in the United States. According to Terry E. Townsend, the vice president of thAe American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), "buildings use more than one-third of our total energy, two-thirds of our electricity, one-fifth of our water and contribute to one-fifth of landfill waste." Essentially, the green modification of buildings is imperative in making a significant difference in the effects the construction industry has on the environment.

Green Construction is proving to play a significant role in enhancing the economy, primarily as a major job creator. According to the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), a nonprofit organization committed to developing cost-effective and energy-saving buildings, green building created 2 million jobs in the United States as of 2008 and generated over US$100 billion in gross domestic product and wages. It is predicted that by 2013, it will account for 8 million jobs and US$554 billion of the country's GDP.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) suggests that such endeavors can help solve financial and ecological problems simultaneously. In February 2009, a CSIS study found that in the United States alone, new investments in cleaner energy could help create 2.5 million new jobs by 2018. Therefore, it appears that Green Construction is proving to be essential in fulfilling Ban's vision of simultaneously preventing climate change and creating financial stability through Green Growth.

The Way Forward, as Led by South Korea

Ban Ki-moon referred to the Republic of South Korea as a prime example of a country leading the way in promoting Green Growth and hence fostering financial stability. …

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