Author(s): Gregory Cade. Published on March 1, 2016.

Climate Change & the Code

Does the Paris Agreement signal a new role for standards developers?


In December, President Obama was among the world leaders who met in Paris to discuss global climate change. The results of the annual Conference of the Parties (COP21), also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference—which produced the Paris Agreement for the limiting of global warming—continue to be a major topic of discussion here on Capitol Hill. Federal agencies from the Department of Energy to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are providing grant funds to develop new programs and products, and to conduct research aimed at reducing our carbon footprint. Everyone involved in the discussion is looking for the best path forward to improve our environment in the most cost-effective manner.

As part of that process, Congress is looking into how standards development organizations (SDOs) can influence the regulatory process related to improving our energy-use footprint. The Government Accountability Office is conducting research at the request of members of Congress to determine how SDO committees are considering climate change as they develop or update their codes and standards. Outside of the U.S., the codes produced in this country, including those by NFPA, are being evaluated for their potential impact on the goals laid out in the climate-change initiatives negotiated in Paris.

One piece of legislation, the Senate’s “Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015” (S. 2012), is a good example of the direct connection between a broad federal initiative and NFPA’s codes and standards. The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources has recognized that energy efficiency will play an increasingly important role in the nation’s energy strategy. The advancement of cost-effective efficiency programs and technologies can contribute to the nation’s goal of energy independence by reducing demand and using energy supplies more effectively, and the committee wants to increase energy efficiency measures in the federal government, as well as in the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors. Codes like NFPA 5000®, Building Construction and Safety Code®, and the National Electrical Code® can have a significant positive impact on such efforts, and the committees that oversee the development of those codes must include energy efficiency as a key component of the evolution of those documents.

NFPA believes that climate change must be considered as part of the future development of codes and standards, and it has been working on these efforts for several years; while some of the terminology may differ, the general direction is the same. In 2014, the Fire Protection Research Foundation issued “Disaster Resiliency and NFPA Codes and Standards,” a report that referenced related efforts by the National Institute of Science and Technology, as well as Presidential Policy Directives such as PPD-21, Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience. Projected sea-level rise, for example, will impact NFPA requirements for emergency generator locations and related fuel supplies and resources. In December, a follow-up report, “Guidance Document for Incorporating Resiliency Concepts into NFPA Codes and Standards,” was released and will be used by NFPA committees to consider a range of resiliency issues. 

As the causes of climate change are debated by the political leadership, NFPA is appropriately situated to consider the issue as its numerous technical committees conduct their important work.

GREGORY B. CADE is division director, Government Affairs for NFPA. Top Photograph: Getty Images