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RIBA declares climate emergency

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The RIBA today announced it would urgently pursue a five-year action plan towards a net-zero built environment as its ruling council unanimously voted to declare an environmental and climate emergency.

During a meeting of RIBA Council, the gravity of the threat was underlined when council member Flora Samuel, a professor of architecture at the University of Reading, became tearful when reporting that female students had told her they were not planning to have children because they ‘don’t see a future’.

President Ben Derbyshire, who was chairing his last council meeting before handing over the reins to Alan Jones, pulled no punches ahead of the vote either.

He said architects had become steadily less relevant to society over the years but now had the opportunity to do something that could play a part in saving society from collapse because of architects’ unique ‘skills-set’.

‘If we [architects] don’t rise to this challenge, we do not deserve to exist,’ he said.

The council then endorsed the following motion:

1. Declaration of an environment and climate emergency and support for the UK government’s commitment to put into legislation the UKCCC recommendation for a UK 2050 net zero greenhouse gas emissions target.

2. RIBA to develop an Ethics and Sustainable Development Action Plan to include measurable actions to support a net zero carbon environment, driving change, at national and international level, in:

a) Industry standards and practice

b) Government and inter-governmental policy and regulation

c) The RIBA’s own carbon footprint.

3. The RIBA should work to support chartered member practices (in the UK and internationally) enabling them to commit to voluntary reporting of core building performance metrics and to work towards the whole-life net zero carbon standard and standard post-occupancy evaluation reporting metrics when the guidance is available.

Derbyshire told the meeting: ‘The climate emergency is the biggest challenge facing our planet and our profession. But to have a significant impact we need to do more than make symbolic statements – we need to turn warm words into impactful actions.

To have a significant impact we need to do more than make symbolic statements

‘We architects need to transform the way we practise and, along with our fellow professionals around the world, make changes that will impact at a global level.

‘While the task ahead of us is vast, we have already made some progress embedding post-occupancy evaluation into the RIBA Plan of Work and introducing enhanced sustainability requirements in our awards criteria. But there is still much more for all of us to do.

‘The five-year action plan we have committed to today will ensure we are able to benchmark change and evaluate the actions that make most impact.’

During the debate, there was general agreement that the RIBA needed to work very closely with other professional bodies in the built environment, but the council rejected a motion by student council member Simeon Shtebunaev to replace the 2050 goal with one of 2030. Other council members argued the institution needed to act within a bigger framework agreed by the country as a whole.

Other points made included incoming president Alan Jones’s call for the RIBA President’s Medals to be awarded for work in tackling the climate emergency for the next two years, and Elsie Owusu’s call for the RIBA to pay greater attention to the disproportionate global impact of climate change on the southern hemisphere.

Meanwhile, Selasi Setufe said that younger RIBA members should be heavily involved in decision-making regarding its response to the climate emergency given its greater impact on younger generations. 

Comment

Asif Din, sustainability director at Perkins and Will
RIBA’s recognition and declaration of a climate emergency is very welcome at such a crucial time for building design and the construction industry within the wider climate change debate. This is an important first step towards the decarbonisation of the entire built environment but must be swiftly followed by tangible actions.

Currently, there is a real lack of understanding of how the built environment can be decarbonised. This challenge will require a step-change in the way we design, deliver and operate buildings. Undoubtedly, this declaration is a step in the right direction, but the RIBA and the wider profession must ensure that this is more than an empty promise to the monumental threat of climate change.

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Readers' comments (5)

  • Is this the same institution that held a conference on how to exploit Africa and its petrochemical resources? I wonder if this is what you call creative ambiguity.

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  • Having taken six months since unanimously accepting the findings of its Ethics and Sustainable Development Commission to decide that an Action Plan would be appropriate, I'm sorry that the RIBA seems now to have quietly brushed under the carpet the Commission's equally important recommendations in terms of 'Ethics' : the principle that social purpose and public interest should be placed above the narrower, short-term objectives of client satisfaction is surely the very necessary corollary to the (primarily technical) paradigm-shift proposed in relation to addressing the problems associated with climate change.

    Chris Heuvel

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  • GREAT NEWS - RIBA BOARD DECLARES THAT THERE IS INDEED A CLIMATE EMERGENCY!!.... So how can RIBA Members square that with designing new airports for Heathrow etc? Architects need to re-design the way we design and construct our buildings. Declaring a Climate Emergency draws a line in the sand. Don't declare if you can't live up to the challenges such a declaration brings with it.

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  • MacKenzie Architects

    What a bunch of virtue-signalling hypocrites.
    Educational-system brainwashing has convinced our children -mine too- that this world is too horrible for their children to have a meaningful life.
    You don't know how lucky you are.

    There are 7.3 billion people in the world, most of them barely scratching a living. Zero-carbon is going to do nothing for them.
    CO2 is an absolute red herring, you grown-up lot are supposed to be smart enough to see through the propaganda.
    The only way to save the world's population is through technological advancement, and if that's low energy, all well and good.
    -and you think filthy nuclear power is an answer -disgraceful.

    You are not going to convince China, India, Brazil, or Russia to suppress their industrial revolutions when we've already had ours. Feeling guilty wont cut it.

    Get real -if you want to do something, stop using concrete, steel and plastic in your buildings. Make a stand on multi-billion pound projects and crash the economy if you insist.
    Otherwise get out of the profession. Your guilt isn't doing any good.

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  • Severe case of climate change denial there Judy (the chimp from Daktari). It is you who needs to get real...there are 7.6 billion people on the planet, and that is the problem. A woman has a child every 6 seconds, if we could only find that woman and stop her! At some point soon, we reach the carrying capacity of the planet, and no amount of technology will save you. Those, such as the BRIC block that you mention, who have not evolved to the next level of human evolution, will reap what the sow. Replace your profile photo with that of a Neanderthal.

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