Climate Change

COP15 actions

COPENHAGEN: A call to action

COP15We, the Royal Institute of British Architects, Architecture Canada, the Australian Institute of Architects, and the Commonwealth Association of Architects call for an ambitious and effective international response to climate change, to be agreed at the 15th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen, Denmark, 7–18 December 2009.

The world faces a pressing challenge: maintaining, and indeed improving, standards of living and economic growth rates whilst eliminating our dependence on fossil fuels and reversing environmental degradation.

The architecture and built environment profession have a crucial role to play. Buildings—whether they be the iconic skyscrapers of the world’s megacities or the smallest of sustainable villages—shape our lives, but their construction and operation accounts for almost half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Sustainable, low carbon design therefore is critical today and for the future. Not only does sustainable design of buildings and cities reduce the burden on the environment, it also improves our health, quality of life and vitality of our communities.

We believe it is the responsibility of the profession to make this call for action. McKinsey & Co estimated in July 2009 that comprehensive efforts to pursue energy efficiency in the United States would reduce energy consumption by 23 per cent (from a business as usual scenario) by 2020¹. The potential for emissions reductions—if such comprehensive efforts are pursued on a global scale—is enormous, and highlights the significant contribution the built environment can make to emissions mitigation.

The Kyoto Protocol, which was the first step towards concerted international action to limit greenhouse gas emissions, expires in 2012. The next 36 months are crucial, and definitive international action is required to build a new international climate change agreement, and such a treaty must be science based, equitable, practical and binding.

Guiding Principles

We call for:

Recognition of the fundamental importance of the built environment.
The built environment is central to the international climate change mitigation and adaptation agenda. Building unsustainable buildings must no longer be acceptable. It is economically and commercially viable to make buildings more sustainable, if appropriate pricing signals and incentives are put in place.

Pre-emptive adaptation to unavoidable climate impacts using the built environment.
Design will play a crucial role as our landscape and natural habitats change across the world. Innovative and pre-emptive design of the built environment, including planning, transport and infrastructure provision appropriate to location, will enable communities to minimise their impact on the environment, and adapt to climate impacts that cannot be avoided. In particular, recognition needs to be given to increasing the efficient use of existing urban infrastructure and securing urban growth boundaries.

Partnerships between developing and developed economies.
The capabilities of the developed and developing world differ. We believe that architecture and design can be part of the solution, particularly through the two way transfer of sustainable designs, technologies and materials between the developed and developing world.

Binding targets and a carbon price to drive market change.
The market can help rather than hinder sustainable designs and materials, however currently, sustainable buildings or retrofits are hindered by market barriers. A price on carbon reflecting the true consequences of its use and complementary government policies and incentives, will facilitate the competitiveness of sustainable design, and thus enable energy efficiencies and other environmental benefits to be achieved. We support binding emissions targets for all economies, based on the principles of contraction and convergence² as they will generate appropriate price signals. However, we recognise that the mechanism through which each country achieves their target must be flexible.

Credible and verified measurement of built environment emissions.
We call for an international standard of accounting for carbon emissions. Measurement is vital for the profession to demonstrate progress against objectives and to support decision makers in making sustainable choices about the design and use of buildings.

Enabling policy.
We call for enabling policy - whether market mechanisms, government policy, private sector initiatives or voluntary action - to establish sustainable design and materials as the norm, not the exception. The barriers to achieving a sustainable built environment should be minimised, including excessive regulation and red tape. Where there is government intervention, we call for balance between the demand and the supply sides of the market.

Incentives to drive innovation.
We call for measures that reward greater sustainability in the built environment, especially energy efficiency. These measures will be supplementary to measures that place a price on carbon emissions. To be most effective they would apply at the early stages of the supply chain that are involved in design, construction and retrofitting of buildings, as well as to the commercial and residential elements of the buildings sector.

Capacity building and learning to support built environment solutions.
There is a need for investment in pilot projects to trial and demonstrate innovative and practical approaches for change to the Business as Usual model. These will include but are not limited to: embedded energy solutions, development and application of improved building codes, use of more efficient systems, appliances and techniques to reduce energy from heating, ventilation, and lighting and to reduce transport and waste. We are committed to disseminating the lessons learnt, to our memberships and the wider built environment industry.

Risk management in the face of climate uncertainties.
We recognise that climate science is continually evolving, and believe in risk mitigation. Future scenarios, including the threat of peak oil and sea level rise, should be factored into the way we conceive of our built environment and city planning.

A concerted program to improve the existing stock of buildings.
At any one time, older and typically less sustainable buildings dominate the built environment, and account for the majority of emissions and energy use. To be effective, policy measures therefore need to encourage positive change, including energy efficient refurbishment and retrofitting, as well sustainable design for new buildings.

The environment is a common resource, and we are all in this together.
It is natural to concentrate upon our homes and workplaces. Evidence consistently shows that there are many actions that produce significant emissions abatement in the built environment and reduce costs over the long term. Factoring in the built environment and our cities is key to ensuring that challenges to the environment are addressed at lowest cost to the global community.

Professional Actions

In addition to guiding principles, action is necessary. The profession will:

Support emissions reduction targets to achieve per capita emissions of less than 2 tonnes CO2 by 2050.
This will require reducing emissions by up to 90% on 1990 levels4. The profession supports acceleration and deepening of emissions abatement beyond targets asked for by others because of our confidence in the additional abatement contribution that the built environment could make. If properly supported, the profession will help eliminate future emissions from new buildings and significantly reduce the emissions from existing buildings.

Support requiring the majority of all new buildings in developed countries to be designed to be carbon neutral in energy use by 2020.
The technology, knowledge and expertise to do this are becoming more widely available. However appropriate price signals and assistance measures will be required, especially in the initial years, while there are various barriers and market failure issues to overcome.

Help to establish an international mechanism for the building sector to offset emissions from the use of energy in the built environment particularly from existing stock.
The building sector can and will reduce emissions through the use of sustainable designs and materials in all new buildings. However, the built environment will still generate emissions. The profession can encourage clients to offset these emissions if an accredited, independent offset mechanism or framework is established.

Design to reduce the emissions generated by existing buildings in developed countries by 30 per cent by 2020.
Buildings have a long lifespan. If supported by the right incentives, the profession has the knowledge and skills to help reduce these future emissions, through applying sustainable design principles to retrofitting, renovations and extensions.

Assist the transfer of knowledge and technologies to developing economies.
The profession will establish an electronic clearinghouse to facilitate capacity building and coordinate the transfer of knowledge, skills and expertise—as they relate to sustainable design principles and strategies for the built environment and our cities—to the developing world. This will prove crucial as the developing world adapts to the climate impacts already locked into the system.


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