Diplomatic Pouch / November 4, 2016
By Larry Luxner
Four years ago, when the Dutch Embassy hosted Washington’s first Greening Embassies Forum, the concentration of carbon dioxide emissions in the Earth’s atmosphere was hovering around 395 parts per million.
Since then, the level of greenhouse gases has crept up past the 400 ppm threshold, endangering international efforts to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius as pledged in the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
And Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump — who sees global warming as a hoax — has warned that if he wins the White House on Nov. 8, one of the first things he’ll do is scrap U.S. participation in such agreements.
All of which makes efforts like the D.C. Greening Embassies Forum more important than ever.
On Oct. 5, more than 60 ambassadors and senior embassy officials gathered at the Italian Embassy to pledge their support for the District of Columbia’s “Sustainable DC” plan and its goal of making the District the “healthiest, greenest and most livable city in the United States,” according to the State Department.
That makes a total of 100 embassies now committed to the forum’s goals, up from 77 in 2013.
“This pledge renewal couldn’t come at a better time,” said Tommy Wells, director of the District’s Department of Energy and the Environment. “The adoption of the historic Paris Agreement last December calls on all of us to take aggressive new action on an international scale. The pledge we are signing tonight is a perfect continuation of that agreement at the local scale.”
According to Wells, the District has seen its greenhouse gas emissions drop by 23 percent from 2006 to 2013, even though its population grew by more than 70,000 during that period.
“Not only has this pledge served as a model for other diplomatic communities across the globe, with new forum chapters in Rome and Bangkok, but also as a model for other important sectors right here in DC,” he said. “Through our Sustainable DC plan, we’ve used this pledge to model three other voluntary sustainability pledges with key sectors in the city: universities, hospitals and healthcare providers, and large businesses.”
Added David H. Thorne, senior advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. ambassador to Italy from 2009 to 2013: “Subnational engagements that engage the diplomatic corps, such as this forum, are significant tools in reaching our global climate and clean energy goals.”
The Paris agreement, whose text was agreed to by negotiators from nearly 200 countries at a United Nations climate summit nearly a year ago, took effect at midnight Nov. 1 — just a month after countries representing 55 percent of total worldwide emissions committed to joining the deal.
Yet even if all parties abide by the reductions outlined in the Paris agreement, it won’t be nearly enough to avert catastrophe, according to a risk assessment by the United Nations Environmental Programme — because it still leaves the world on a trajectory to heat up another 3.4 degrees Celsius by 2100.
Before becoming the U.S. envoy to Ecuador in 2012, Namm was director of the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, which builds and maintains our diplomatic facilities abroad.
“From serving in both of those positions, I am keenly aware of the opportunities and challenges many of you encounter in making your embassies a showcase of environmental innovation,” Namm told invited guests who gathered at the Italian Embassy. “The pledge represents our shared commitment to serve as environmental stewards here in Washington — a partnership that is a significant example of diplomacy done right.”
Namm said that through his office’s Greening Diplomatic Initiative, the State Department strives to “reflect our shared commitment to sustainability.” He noted that more than 40 of its buildings worldwide have obtained the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certification. Several embassies here in Washington are also LEED-certified, including those of the European Union, Canada, Finland, Netherlands and the United Arab Emirates.”
LEED certifications have four rating levels: certified, silver, gold and platinum. The Dutch Embassy won LEED silver certification in 2011, while the Dutch consulate in San Francisco has been given a LEED gold certification.
The Canadian Embassy, located along Pennsylvania Avenue near the Capitol, opened in May 1989 and measures 311,000 square feet. It won LEED silver certification in November 2014 after replacing chillers, boilers, furnaces and air-conditioning units with new, highly efficient models; upgrading the building maintenance system that controls heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC); and installing energy recovery ventilation and motion sensor-activated lighting throughout the embassy.
Likewise, explained the State Department’s Namm, “we are using innovation and green technologies to improve efficiency in the operation of our older and historic properties. One way is through our smart metering network, which collects our energy use data in real time, enabling us to find inefficiencies and reduce waste. “
He added: “Through a power purchase agreement with Constellation Energy, nearly half of our energy needs for our facilities in D.C. and Maryland come from offsite wind and solar farms, with no upfront costs on our part. And while that sounds like a big idea, we can also think small by simply encouraging our employees around the world to play a part, as in through our ‘Turn It Off’ campaign, which reminds them to turn off unused equipment like computer monitors at the end of the day.”