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A visit to the inaugural Global Climate Action Summit

Tom Chadwick, GI Energy’s CEO, attended the “Zero Carbon in California: Building for the Future” breakout session

 

Speakers included:

  •  ·    Emile Haddad, CEO/Chairman, FivePoint – GI Energy’s real estate development partner at the San Francisco Naval Shipyard
  •  ·     Ron Nichols, President, Southern California Edison
  •  ·     Andrew McAllister, Commissioner, California Energy Commission
  •  ·     Kate White, Deputy Secretary of Environmental Policy and Housing Coordination, California State Transportation Agency

 

The overarching theme in this breakout session was finding ways to address a dual crisis in California – an acute shortage of affordable housing and the threat from climate change that is undermining the proper functioning of society. If California is to remain an economic powerhouse these challenges must be resolved urgently.

 

The panel debated their big new ideas to reduce the carbon footprint in the state and meet the acute housing shortages. What is clear is that Californians – both in the public and private sector are totally serious about addressing the issues. The audience was left in no doubt that the State and Private sector are aligned and committed to this and that action is underway. In our view, there are strong grounds for optimism in California.

 

A wide variety of ideas were debated but the following bold ideas struck a cord with us.

 

1. The train route from San Francisco to Los Angeles is now under construction. This will ultimately take travel time down, reduce congestion and bring large parts of Central California within commuting distance of the major conurbations and the job markets. The housing markets of SF and LA are totally out of reach of the next generation and by opening up efficient and clean transport corridors the housing imbalance can be addressed. European style high speed trains are a pre requisite for a lower carbon future.

 

2. The built environment accounts for over 72% of global GHG emissions (Hertwich and Peters 2009; Wilson et al. 2013). The bold concept of mandating that homes would be required to meet emissions standards in the same way as cars was put out there as an idea. It was argued that this worked for cars and would address the challenges associated with retrofitting old homes with older codes. If any meaningful solution to carbon reduction is to succeed the existing housing stock will ultimately need to be included in a solution.

 

3. FivePoint, one of California’s leading homebuilders, is currently building one of the largest net zero communities in the US at Newhall Ranch – 21,500 homes. FivePoint is setting the standard for the next generation of homes and net zero homes should become the benchmark before long. It was suggested that the State should cut back permitting delays and red tape for community developments that meet these standards, thereby effectively ensuring all developers incorporate these now achievable goals or risk being left behind.

 

Housing is in crisis in California and the above initiatives could provide a mechanism for dealing with both challenges at the same time – a political win win. Cutting commuting times from areas that are affordable and developing low cost carbon neutral homes should result in large amounts of avoided carbon. Within these communities transport itself can be revolutionized through greater use of Electric Vehicles, cycle paths and walkways. The technology being evolved for the new build market can then be migrated back to the existing housing stock, by which time it will be tried, tested and much more affordable.