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This year in Copenhagen

[<blockquote>“The next 36 months are crucial. A new international climate change agreement must be based on science, equitable, practical and binding.”</blockquote>]
“The next 36 months are crucial. A new international climate change agreement must be based on science, equitable, practical and binding.”

“The next 36 months are crucial. A new international climate change agreement must be based on science, equitable, practical and binding.”
As I write, uncertainty is overshadowing the likelihood that climate change negotiation in Copenhagen will produce a comprehensive international treaty on global warming. At a domestic level our national leaders, like those in the United States, continue to bicker over the issues.

The Australian Institute of Architects is not deterred, and in the lead-up to Copenhagen took the initiative to galvanize international support for a statement to the UN’s climate change conference. Developed with Architecture Canada, the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Commonwealth Architects Association, the call-for-action statement highlights the crucial roles that architecture and the built environment can play in reducing the climate change impact on the environment.

Our statement is designed to encourage governments, architects and the broader community to act on the extensive research that shows the significant contribution the built environment can make to emissions mitigation if comprehensive efforts in energy-efficiency are pursued. With our international counterparts, the statement has been actively promoted to our respective governments and other relevant stakeholders, with the intent that it will feed into the climate change discussions in Copenhagen in December.

A series of principles underlie the specific calls for action. They are:

• Recognition of the fundamental importance of the built environment to the international climate change mitigation and adaption agenda.

• The crucial role that design will play as our landscape and natural habitats change across the world.

• The importance of the market helping rather than hindering sustainable design and materials.

• The need for incentives to drive innovation and reward greater sustainability in the built environment, especially energy-efficiency.

• The need for a concerted program to improve the existing stock of buildings (accounting for the majority of energy use and emissions) to encourage positive change, including energy-efficient refurbishment and retro-fitting.

Underpinned by research findings on targets and their achievability, the Institute’s statement also includes a blueprint for action, essentially outlining the profession’s support for:

• Emissions reduction targets of up to 90 percent on 1990 levels, by 2050 (US President Obama’s campaign platform included a pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050).

• Requiring the majority of all new buildings in developed countries to be designed to be carbon-neutral in energy use by 2020. Notwithstanding market and other barriers, the technology, knowledge and expertise to do this are becoming more widely available.

• Helping to establish an internationally accredited, independent offset mechanism or framework for the building sector to offset emissions from the built environment where emissions cannot be entirely eliminated, particularly from existing stock.

• By 2020 a 30 percent reduction in emissions generated by existing buildings in developed countries. With the support of the right incentives, the architecture profession’s knowledge and skills will help reduce future emissions, by applying sustainable design principles to retro-fitting, renovations and extensions.

• An electronic clearing house to facilitate capacity building and the transfer of knowledge, skills and expertise as they relate to sustainable design principles and strategies for the built environment and our cities.

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

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. Such a treaty must be based on science, equitable, practical and binding. While the chances of a strong deal in Copenhagen are slim, we can still expect key outcomes to guide its fulfilment in 2010. I fiercely hope that by the time you are reading this, we will have witnessed fundamental progress at an international level.

Melinda Dodson
National President, Australian Institute of Architects

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