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Opening speech by Federal Minister Barbara Hendricks at the International Conference on Sustainable Built Environment

Opening speech by Federal Minister Barbara Hendricks at the International Conference on Sustainable Built Environment "Strategies for sustainable building and housing"

"Strategies for sustainable building and housing"

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Dear Walter Pelka, 

dear Senator Katharina Fegebank,

dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

In a city like Hamburg, people are used to keeping an eye on the water levels. This is particularly true around the port itself and the HafenCity district. If the water level rises one or two metres because, for instance, sections of Greenland’s glaciers melt, there may well be wet feet here in Hamburg. For coastal regions, in the long-term, one thing is very clear – a glance at what the Netherlands is going through tells us: it is going to cost money, a lot of money. If a whole country is only one or two metres above sea level, it becomes a matter of survival – for the country, the region, and the population. This is why it was so important that we did not just agree on an internationally binding two-degree limit on global warming at the Paris climate conference. We also pledged to make every effort to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees.

There are places in the world where the extent of global warming can make the difference between survival and destruction, countries such as Bangladesh and the Caribbean or Pacific Islands. In Paris, we achieved an agreement that exceeded all of our hopes. It is a milestone in international climate policy, and a sign of hope for people around the world. We succeeded in convincing all 195 parties to commit to a truly global climate agreement. It is an agreement that makes climate action binding and gives us a clear path to follow: 

We are taking the road that leaves the era of fossil fuels behind. We are breaking free from a time in which we purchased our economic status and lifestyle at the cost of future generations and the poor. We are moving towards an era in which we will finally respect the earth’s ecological limits.

2015 was a great year for setting off on this road. The countries of the world have taken important steps towards each other. The Paris Agreement was simply the culmination of this process. At the G7 meeting in June in Elmau, the world’s most important industrialised nations decided that the world economy must be decarbonised before the end of this century. This was an important signal. In practice, decarbonisation means a complete transformation of our current economic practices and a turn towards sustainable production methods and lifestyles. The thought behind this approach also influenced the other major milestones achieved in climate action and environmental protection in the last year. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in September. This agenda is the first approach that systematically combines the eradication of poverty with the preservation of our planet.

And it is high time we acted: It is up to our generation to create today the foundations that ensure that our world will remain worth living in for future generations. Or, rather, that it will become worth living in once more. Because 2015 was also the year in which Germany took in over one million refugees. Many of them will likely stay with us for a while. In the last year, around 60 million people around the world were fleeing hunger, poverty, war and persecution. This is the highest number of refugees ever recorded by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Unfortunately, many factors suggest that this number will not drop but continue to rise. Climate change and resource scarcity force people to leave their homes and increasingly are causes of conflict.

As you can see, sustainable development is not just "nice to have". It is an urgent, fundamental issue for our civilisation. The importance of sustainable approaches to the planning, construction, and operation of buildings, as well as to urban development and housing plans is also highlighted in the 2030 Agenda. The agenda includes, for the first time, a specific target for cities – this shows the great importance placed on cities. What happens in cities will determine whether sustainable development will succeed – in Germany, in Europe and worldwide. 

According to the United Nations’ estimates, in 2050 three-quarters of the world population will live in cities. In Germany, more than 70 percent of the population already lives in cities. Against this backdrop, it is clear that how we plan and develop our cities is vitally important for sustainable development. It is in urban spaces that short-sighted decisions can lead to problems with long-term consequences. The German government, and, first and foremost, my ministry, the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Reactor Safety, will integrate building, housing and sustainable urban development into the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. 

Since environment and building have been united in one government ministry, it has become much easier to do this efficiently. To give an example: As you are aware, we urgently need additional affordable housing for a broad spectrum of the population. To address this, I proposed a ten point programme for a housing construction campaign, and we aim to strengthen social housing development. At the same time, we have the goal of making our existing buildings climate neutral by the middle of this century. We have to work towards this in order to credibly reach our climate targets. For this reason, cutting corners in terms of energy efficiency requirements for buildings will not be accepted. Climate-friendly design and building is not a luxury – it is a binding obligation based on a sense of responsibility to the world and the future generations.

Climate action is just one part of sustainable development in planning and construction. As a client in the building sector, the government has also been confronted with the complicated practical issues of sustainable building. Our concept for sustainable construction and building operation has been authoritatively set out in our Guideline for Sustainable Building. The guideline was updated last year. I am very pleased that I am able to offer you an English version that was completed in time for this year’s conference. The German National Sustainable Development Strategy, with its targets and indicators, is the barometer for sustainable development in German environmental and building policy. It will be updated in line with the 2030 Agenda. In this process, we are in constant discussion with economic and local stakeholders, and, of course, with the scientific community and educators. 

We need your input. That’s why I was particularly pleased to sponsor this conference. I wish you a positive and productive time here in Hamburg. 

Thank you very much.

04.03.2016 | Speech Climate | Hamburg