In a bold and necessary move made on July 24 and announced August 5, the board of directors of the California chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA CA) declared a climate emergency to “to immediately accelerate the de-carbonization of the built environment.” AIA CA is the nation’s largest state component of the AIA with 21 local chapters and over 11,000 members.
In its declaration, which was made just days ahead of the release of a sobering special new report on climate change from the United Nations’ Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warning that unchecked global emissions will lead to an increase of another 1.5 degrees Celsius within the next 30 years (on top of the 1.1 degrees Celsius the planet has already warmed by), the AIA CA called on its members to confront several realities, no matter how uncomfortable or inconvenient, that will help them better be prepared for what the IPCC has referred to as a “rapid and far-reaching transformation of human civilization at a magnitude that’s never happened before.” This includes acknowledging that zero-carbon design is an imperative, climate justice is a right, statewide building codes must change, and, perhaps most importantly, that time is of the essence. “The time for debate is over. We must overcome complacency, ignorance, and skepticism and act decisively NOW to de-carbonize California’s buildings and communities,” reads the AIA CA declaration.
Nicki Dennis Stephens, Hon. AIA, executive vice president, AIA CA elaborated:
“There is little to deny our climate is changing and as leaders in the design of the built environment, we have the responsibility to act as stewards of our planet. We are witnessing the devastating consequences of the rapidly changing climate, and the best scientists are now concerned we are reaching a tipping point more rapidly than earlier estimated. There is no time to lose in transforming the design and delivery of architecture. To that end, on July 24, 2021, the AIA California Board of Directors officially declared a climate emergency to immediately accelerate the de-carbonization of the built environment. This action calls on each of us to make immediate and meaningful impacts in our profession, it enables AIA CA to move rapidly and boldly to influence public policy, and it challenges other organizations to join us in recognizing the importance of climate action and the immediacy of the issue.”
The declaration goes on to detail a number of actions that AIA CA has committed itself to pursue. Among other actions they include:
- Supporting California Governor Gavin Newsom’s goals of achieving statewide carbon neutrality by 2035 rather than 2045, and increasing in grid-based renewable energy to 90 percent by 2030;
- Advocating accelerated changes to the California Building Code and Title 24 that would require all new commercial buildings to be zero net carbon, with a target of 2022;
- Developing a California Guide to Resilient Design of buildings, communities, and cities;
- Advocating for a full phase-out of fossil fuel appliances in existing buildings beginning this year;
- Promoting policy change that encourages the adaptive reuse of existing buildings over the construction of new buildings,
- And championing “affordable, healthy, zero-carbon housing for all citizens” by acknowledging that housing is a human right.
The declaration can be read in full here.