Architects at COP26

John Hill
28. October 2021
The Glasgow Science Centre, the host for COP26. (Photo: Florian Fuchs/Wikimedia Commons)

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has announced it is sending a delegation of architects to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), taking place from October 31 to November 12 in Glasgow, Scotland. It is the first time the AIA is officially participating in a COP event.

The anticipation over COP26 is very high, fueled by a year full of natural disasters whose effects have been amplified by climate change. In the United States, the news media is consistently attributing disasters like the wildfires and droughts in the West to climate change, a noticeable shift over the pervasive climate skepticism of recent years. The deaths and other impacts of storms like Hurricane Ida on New York City and its environs two months ago clearly signal the lack of preparation for the stronger storms that are sure to follow as global warming and other aspects of climate change increase. 

In this context, no wonder the AIA, under 2021 President Peter Exley, is finally sending architects to COP, to Glasgow. "The design community is committed to addressing climate change," Exley said in a statement, "but we know that we can’t do it alone. AIA is participating in this global convening because it is going to take the concerted efforts of both industry and government to make meaningful action on climate change." Exley will be attending COP26 with architects Julie Hiromoto (COTE 2020 Advisory Group Chair,) Mike Davis (AIA Government Advocacy Committee Chair), and Dr. Mark Breeze (AIA UK Sustainability Chair).

Of course, the AIA is also going to Glasgow to promote the skills of its member architects in addressing climate change, following from the widespread assertion that buildings account for around 40 percent of total global carbon emissions, and that such efforts as the AIA 2030 Commitment find architects working toward creating carbon-neutral buildings. "It is imperative that world leaders meeting in Glasgow fully commit to adopting aggressive building policies, incentives, and codes that meet the 1.5°C carbon budget,” Exley also said. "As our nation's leaders set ambitious targets, architects are making them a reality."

Earlier this month, Exley and Architecture 2030 CEO Edward Mazria, recipient of this year's AIA Gold Medal, penned an op-ed that argued much the same: climate change is upon us, bold action is needed, and "the building industry has a critical role to play in solving the climate crisis." The op-ed coincided with Architecture 2030 issuing the 1.5°C COP26 Communiqué to government leaders headed to COP26. Signed by the sixty member firms of the AIA Large Firm Roundtable, along with two dozen organizations in and beyond the United States, the full Communiqué is transcribed below.

The 1.5°C COP26 Communiqué:

We are organizations, firms, and sub-national governments responsible for planning, designing, constructing, and developing the built environment globally.

We are taking specific actions that fully harness our capacity to affect significant carbon emissions reductions in order to retain a 67% or better probability of meeting the Paris Agreement’s 1.5ºC budget of 340-400 GTCO2; a 50-65% emissions reduction by 2030, and zero CO2 emissions by 2040.

The built environment is the largest source of the world’s carbon emissions with buildings responsible for approximately 40%, and when accounting for the embodied carbon of building interiors, systems, and associated infrastructure, that percentage is substantially higher. Our professions and industries are transforming and taking significant action to mitigate and adapt to climate change. By showing what is possible, we are emboldening others to do the same.

We call on all sovereign governments to ramp up their Nationally Determined Contributions, and 2030 emissions reduction targets, to limit planetary warming in line with the remaining global 1.5ºC carbon budget.

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