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Landmark Commonwealth pact to counter climate impact as urban populations set to double

The agreement will enable vital knowledge and expertise to be shared between Commonwealth countries to address the twin global challenges of rapid urbanisation and environmental degradation.

05 July 2023

A landmark agreement has been made that will enable vital knowledge and expertise to be shared between Commonwealth countries to address the twin global challenges of rapid urbanisation and environmental degradation.  

The agreement has been signed by 10 members of the Commonwealth Association of Architects (CAA) representing national architecture professional bodies in Commonwealth countries across five continents. The initiative seeks to ensure that all member countries, particularly those experiencing the fastest expansion of their towns and cities and facing the most urgent climate-related threats, are adequately equipped with the capacity and skills to create inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable urban areas. 

The CAA warns that, unless currents trends are reversed, rapid urbanisation will have a devastating impact on our eco-systems, with serious social, economic, and environmental consequences, especially for coastal cities, and cities in small island developing states. 

Led by the CAA and developed in partnership with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the agreement – consisting of a Memorandum of Understanding – underlines the central role that built environment professionals can play in developing solutions to global sustainability challenges.  

The initiative highlights that: 

  • Cities already consume more than two thirds of the world’s energy and account for more than 70% of all carbon emissions. 
  • Over the next 30 years the populations of cities in Commonwealth countries are expected to double from one billion to two billion people, accounting for nearly 50% of the forecasted growth in the world’s urban population by 2050.  
  • With 95% of the cities most at risk from climate change located in Africa and Asia, many Commonwealth countries are among those most vulnerable to climate change impact. 
  • Many of the countries urbanising most rapidly, suffer a critical lack of built environment capacity and expertise. For example, Uganda, only has around 250 architects and 100 planners, despite having a population of 48 million, urbanising at a rate of over 6% per year. By comparison, the UK has 41,500 architects and 22,000 planners and a population of 67 million, urbanising at a rate of 1% a year.  
  • This lack of professional capacity is often coupled with a lack of capacity in education and weaknesses in areas such as planning and building codes, especially in the public sector and in secondary cities where most urban dwellers live. 

To counter this, the CAA-led initiative will use the Commonwealth and its networks, focusing most urgently on countries facing the most immediate challenges. Activities will include collaboration to develop capacity in areas including policy and legislation, learning and development, and urban planning and design. It will aim to increase professional competency and climate literacy in sustainable urbanisation and climate action. 

The initiative will also support advocacy for those countries in greatest need, while encouraging national governments and donors to offer assistance and investment. It is hoped that this will increase the pipeline of sustainable building projects that are also financially viable and beneficial to local communities. 

Designed to facilitate a dynamic exchange between the signatory organisations, the agreement recognises that some commonwealth countries are already dealing with the direct impacts of climate change that others are likely to face in years or decades to come.  

The list of founding signatory organisations is as follows: 

  • Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK)  
  • Antigua & Barbuda Institute of Architects (ABIA)  
  • Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA)  
  • Barbados Institute of Architects (BIA)  
  • Institute of Architects Bangladesh (IAB)  
  • Institute of Architects Pakistan (IAP)  
  • Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC)   
  • Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)  
  • Trinidad & Tobago Institute of Architects (TTIA)  
  • Uganda Society of Architects (USA) 

All CAA Member Organisations have been invited to become signatories. 

Royal Institute of British Architects Chief Executive Dr Valerie Vaughan-Dick MBE said: 

“Architects and other built environment professionals have a fundamental role to play in tackling the climate emergency. Our towns and cities are key contributors to carbon emissions, but also places where creative sustainable solutions can and must be realised.  

As an institute with global reach, we at RIBA have a responsibility to use every tool at our disposal to address climate change - both in the UK and beyond. This partnership, led by the CAA, is an excellent example of how we, and our counterparts across the world, can use our knowledge, expertise, and influence to make a material difference. And we are equally committed to learning from other countries who are already facing the impacts of climate change, as we all must adapt to the realities of a warmer planet.” 

Commonwealth Association of Architects President Peter Oborn said:  

“The CAA is grateful to the founding signatories for their commitment to this exciting new partnership and are encouraged by the high level of interest that has been shown by member organisations. The initiative has been developed in direct response to the findings of a Survey of Built Environment Professions in the Commonwealth which identified a critical lack of capacity in many of the Commonwealth countries which are experiencing rapid urbanisation and are among the most vulnerable to climate impacts. Only by working together in this way will we be able to confront the challenges we face, and the Commonwealth with its share values, provides the perfect platform from which to do so.” 

Read the Memorandum of Understanding.

Notes to editors: 

  1. Media contact: 
  2. The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) is a global professional membership body that serves its members and society in order to deliver better buildings and places, stronger communities and a sustainable environment. Follow @RIBA on Twitter for updates. 
  3. Formed in 1965, the Commonwealth Association of Architects (CAA) is a membership organisation for institutes representing architects in Commonwealth countries. CAA is a membership organisation for professional bodies representing architects in Commonwealth countries. The Commonwealth network is increasingly valued as a means of accelerating improvement in the world’s living conditions and to ensure a sustainable future for the planet. For further information contact CAA Executive Director, Ms Maira Khan at or visit

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