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Thoughts on Copenhagen: Sunand Prasad

The Copenhagen summit is a chance to get our message across to clients and the public, not just governments, says Sunand Prasad

COP15 is critical for securing an international treaty to limit global warming. Most governments have already decided on their stance at Copenhagen. The UK can only act within the EU bloc led by Sweden, which holds the current residency. So what can architects or the RIBA – indeed anyone not in government – do to make a good treaty more likely?

First, domestic public opinion is a strong influence on governments’ posture in the negotiations. Most administrations round the world now realise that sooner or later there will have to be a global deal. But expediency, popular apathy and ostrich tendencies abound, adding up to a lack of political will.

That is why it is essential to build popular support for real action. Fortunately the UK is way ahead with its targets. The presence of non-governmental support in Copenhagen may not swing the deal but it can help.

Second, and of special concern to architects and the building industry, there remains considerable ignorance amongst the negotiating teams about the huge contribution of the built environment to greenhouse gas emissions and therefore potentially to their limitation.

We need to assure negotiators that the industry can deliver reductions and a treaty would help

We need to assure negotiators that the industry is capable of delivering these reductions and that a treaty would help us do more. That has been the RIBA’s clear position following a unanimous Council vote three years ago and we expect to present it through the International Union of Architects (UIA), now granted provisional status at COP15.

I will also be taking part in a Culture/Futures event whose premise is that we cannot reduce emissions without rethinking assumptions that are deeply embedded in 20th-century consumer culture.

Influencing negotiations is not the main purpose in going to Copenhagen. For those who believe in urgent action on climate change, COP15 is an opportunity to get their message to their own constituencies and to the public. The RIBA first committed itself in the 1970s to sustainable development, though its record has been, at best, patchy until this decade.

The best way to show this commitment is through practice but it is essential that architects and the construction industry also actively campaign for a global framework within which the outcomes of that practice make sense to all.

Sunand Prasad is a senior partner at Penoyre & Prasad and the last president of the RIBA. Current president Ruth Reed has charged Prasad with carrying forward the RIBA’s work on climate change for the next year

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