Over 60 top international firms send open letter calling for climate leadership ahead of COP26

A Necessary Demand

Over 60 top international firms send open letter calling for climate leadership ahead of COP26

(EJ Yao/UnSplash)

A coalition of over 60 of the world’s top international architecture, landscape architecture, engineering, planning, and construction firms and two dozen professional AEC organizations from across the globe have co-signed the 1.5oC COP26 Communiqué, an open letter addressed to world leaders attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow from October 31 through November 12. The Communiqué reaffirms the commitment made by each individual firm and organization to meet the Paris Agreement’s 1.5ocarbon budget while demanding that the governmental heads in attendance at COP26 stand by the pledges made by their own respective nations if they haven’t already.

As detailed in a sobering recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) it will not be possible to limit global warming to 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels, the threshold needed to stave off the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, unless drastic and immediate actions are taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (Yes, it can only get worse.)

As noted by Architecture 2030, the nearly 20-year-old nonprofit that orchestrated the coalition, the assembled firms demanding action are collectively responsible for over $300 billion in annual construction while the co-signing associations represent more than one million professionals located across the world.

Signatory firms range from AECOM to ZGF Architects and include a slew of additional architectural acronyms that represent some of the industry’s most prominent players: SOM, BIG, NBBJ, HOK, and HGA, to name just a few. Also reasserting their commitments are all 60 members of the AIA Large Firm Roundtable.

“The 60 member firms of the AIA Large Firm Roundtable have signed the Communiqué because we want to let governments know that our profession is committed to the mitigation of the adverse effects of climate change,” said Griff Davenport, Chair of the AIA Large Firm Roundtable and CEO of DLR Group. “Accordingly, our member firms have committed to design practices that embrace the principles of 1.5oC now.”

In addition to the AIA Large Firm Roundtable, associations and organizations to join the coalition include, among others, the larger American Institute of Architects (AIA), the American Planning Association, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the U.S. Green Building Council, DGNB German Sustainable Building Council, the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, the Australian Institute of Architects, the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), the International Federation of Landscape Architects, ASHRAE, and Union Internationale des Architectes.

“Those responsible for planning, designing, and constructing the global built environment are leading and transforming our sector so that it is a major part of the solution to the climate crisis,” said Edward Mazria, founder and CEO of the Santa Fe, New Mexico-based Architecture 2030. “It’s long past time for governments to accelerate the pace of emissions reductions so that we don’t exceed the 1.5oC target.”

“It is imperative that world leaders meeting in Glasgow fully commit to adopting aggressive building policies, incentives, and codes that meet the 1.5oC carbon budget,” added AIA president Peter Exley. “As our nation’s leaders set ambitious targets, architects are making them a reality.”

(You can read a joint op-ed written by Mazria and Exley published by The Hill here.)

As detailed by Architecture 2030, buildings account for roughly 40 percent of total global carbon emissions (not taking into account embodied carbon), making the decarbonizing of the built environment critical in staying safely below the 1.5oC threshold. Many nations, including the United States, have made substantial progress on this front in recent years. Carbon emissions in the U.S. building sector, for example, are down 30 percent from 2005 levels.

Still, there’s room for greater improvement, and that improvement needs to happen now.

Reads the 1.5oCOP26 Communiqué in full:

“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.”