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.
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.
Very sobering moment at @Riba council as an emotional @FloraArchitect tells the room that female architecture students have told her they’re not planning to have children because they don’t see a future #climatecrisis— Will Hurst (@WHurst1) June 27, 2019
#Architects must be at the forefront of sustainability #ClimateEmergency We have the skills to make buildings zero energy but Clients + Developers must come on board & all make better policy for best buildings @RIBA Declares climate emergency https://t.co/nomqMb4WeZ @ArchJournal pic.twitter.com/Up9RdBKOxv— Angela Brady OBE PPRIBA (@angelabradyRIBA) June 27, 2019
So RIBA declares climate emergency, yet just 7 days ago they hosted an Oil Drilling Conference. Interesting....@RIBA @ArchitectsJrnal— Louise Priestman (@louisepriestman) June 27, 2019
RIBA blasted after hosting oil industry eventhttps://t.co/eozcS2LEP9
RIBA declares climate emergency https://t.co/Z8vMNjkApa
This is simply THE best news ever. Don’t you just love @RIBA. So proud to be a member today. Big thanks to @ben_derbyshire and @Alan_Vallance for helping to drive this forwards. https://t.co/G4rLqd0nam— Peter Oborn (@peteroborn) June 27, 2019
Absolutely, if it doesn’t affect and alter ongoing work then it’s just another platitude in the face of #ClimateBreakdown.— Scott McAulay (@ScottwbMcAulay) June 27, 2019
To paraphrase @GretaThunberg: I want @RIBA to act as if the house - and every building your members ever have or ever will design - is (already) on fire. https://t.co/u2I6WZMcZM
Thanks to @RIBA Council for the chance to contribute today. Inspiring to witness unanimous declaration of a #climateemergency & hear that work of Ethics & Sustainable Development Commission is being taken incredibly seriously 👏 @ben_derbyshire @peteroborn https://t.co/lRH1zVhtlD— Alasdair Ben Dixon (@alasdair_dixon) June 27, 2019