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Thoughts on the Copenhagen climate summit

Nicholas Stern, Sunand Prasad, Michael Pawlyn and others tell Hattie Hartman what the forthcoming UN talks mean to them

From 7 to 18 December in Copenhagen, governments will meet at the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to agree a global treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

The role the built environment can play in reducing carbon emissions has been undervalued in international negotiations. In the UK, we are in the awkward position of having adopted stringent standards but a question mark remains about our ability to deliver.

The AJ has canvassed a cross-section of industry professionals going to COP15 (as the event is known), to uncover where the pressure points are and how architects can drive the agenda forward.

Nicholas Stern, who authored the UK government’s Economies of Climate Change report in 2007, provides an overview of what is at stake at the conference. Sunand Prasad, who made sustainability one of the central platforms of his RIBA presidency, discusses why he is travelling to Copenhagen.

Addressing the building of new communities, Pooran Desai of Bioregional Quintain argues that we must transform our lifestyles as well as our buildings, and Fulcrum’s Brian Marks bemoans the fact that to see exemplar low-carbon projects, he must take clients abroad.

The work of two architects who are developing new building typologies are included as a provocation to more practices to think broadly about the climate challenge. Michael Pawlyn of Exploration presents the Sahara Forest project, which will be seeking further funding at COP15.

Baca Architects’ strategic work on flood-proof residential communities for Defra exemplifies the future-proofing approach to design that will be increasingly necessary. Finally, Jeremy Leggett of Solar Century looks at how the COP15 agreement can help fast track microrenewables.

The inclusion of the projects by Exploration and Baca does not diminish the hard work many practices are doing to deal with the nitty gritty of U-values, air tightness and thermal bridging, which is equally essential.

When architecture is discussed on a more profound level, sustainability rarely figures. The day low-carbon design is embedded in all projects and accepted as given is still beyond the horizon.

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