The Chaillot Declaration – An international milestone in reducing the climate impact and exposure of buildings and construction?

Friday, 5.00 p.m. after an intense working week, adrenaline high, energy levels running on empty. To my surprise, the plenary room with several hundred seats at the Buildings & Climate Global Forum in Paris is still packed with delegates. Earlier that day, 70 governments from all continents endorsed the Chaillot Declaration, including heavyweights such as Brazil, the US, Japan, Turkey and many large EU countries. Drafted and negotiated in just a few weeks since the announcement of the Buildings Breakthrough at COP28 in Dubai, it builds on the political momentum and the insight that transformative actions to address climate change need to be ramped up. Now, not later. 

The Declaration is a commitment to accelerate actions to reduce GHG emissions caused by the sector and to increase the resilience of buildings to the impact of climate change. And the spirit at the Global Forum was one of intensifying collaboration. The three groups of potential change agents: policymakers, industry and the wide non-profit community, exchanged ideas, solutions and innovations at eye level, all with the intention to make change for the better. Debates were numerous and intense ,  always with a focus on finding solutions to decarbonise a sector which many define as “hard to abate”. This spirit is quite well enshrined in the Declaration text, but as with every political agreement, the devil is in the details. 

The text is not the first political declaration on the sector, but maybe the most comprehensive one. It acknowledges earlier international agreements reached, such as those within the UNFCCC context, e.g. the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action Pathway for Human Settlements and the Global Stocktake, and many others, and builds on these commitments. And it spells out the large responsibility for the sector and its share of GHG emissions, as well as the worrying outlook for an ever-growing built-up surface, expected to double globally by 2060. No doubt, outside Europe and North America in regions with dynamic growth, there is much need for more and better buildings. The question is how this can be aligned with the need to reduce the climate impact of the sector. 

And this is where the declaration becomes quite precise, in tangible recommendations: 

  • Planning for construction should be done in an integrated way with a focus on resilience, efficiency and sufficiency. In particular the latter poses the question how existing buildings can be used better, and how sufficiency concepts could be implemented. 
  • Construction and renovation activities should focus on sustainable, socially and economically adapted, resource efficient and zero emission practices with a whole life cycle approach, while prioritizing resilience as well as reuse and repurposing of buildings through renovation. 

In order to achieve this, the signatory governments commit to: 

  • Establish and implement inclusive decarbonisation and resilience pathways for buildings at all levels; 
  • Implement long-term regulatory roadmaps and frameworks and mandatory building and energy codes for all buildings, at national or subnational level;  
  • Implement an appropriate financial framework, including financial and fiscal incentives and regulatory tools such as taxonomies;  
  • Phase out the financing of emissive and non-resilient buildings. 

The signatories also commit to leading by example through ambitious procurement policies with particular attention to public building procurements, and to promote low-carbon and sustainably-sourced construction materials. With a focus on the supply chain, the commitment fosters collaboration in the sector and enhancing work force skills and capacity.  

With all these commitments in place, the question about the follow up is essential. Again, the declaration is precise on this issue. It establishes an “Intergovernmental Council for Buildings and Climate”, gathering governments to exchange insights and assess the implementation of the Declaration. This intergovernmental council will convene twice a year online, at senior administration level, annually at ministerial level, and every 3 years with stakeholders, in a “Buildings and Climate Global Forum”. Such a frequent rhythm of meetings and consultations allows stakeholders to monitor the progress quite intensively and to formulate benchmarks for progress against which governments can be measured. 

As with every global commitment, the Chaillot Declaration’s long-term success will depend on maintaining expectations and political will of those in charge. For organisations such as BPIE and our many partners, it means engaging constructively and with vigilance and persistence in the follow up, so that affordable, sustainable, resilient and healthy buildings are accessible for every citizen on planet Earth.  

Taking the commitment made in Paris and the many encouraging statements which I heard there at face value, I am convinced that we are entering a new phase of action and commitment in and by the sector. Yes, there are still many barriers to be overcome but they were not the focus of discussion. Rather, the will to “roll up our sleeves” could be felt throughout the event, and that was confirmed in the closing speech of Christophe Béchu, Minister for Ecological Transition and Territorial Cohesion of France:

This Forum is the moment where we move from a global outlook and focus concretely on how to reduce emissions from one specific sector, buildings.

We at BPIE are ready and will stay on the case.  

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