CarbonPositive: COP26

By Kira L. Gould posted 08-24-2021 04:42 PM


CarbonPositive: COP26 

By Kira Gould 

For ARCHITECT magazine, I asked Architecture 2030 president Vincent Martinez about the significance of theU.N. Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP 26) in Glasgow this November, and the critical messages the international community needs to know about the building sector. For nearly two decades, Architecture 2030 has reshaped national and international attention on the building sector. At COP21 in 2015, the nonprofit organization led the effort to highlight the critical role of the built environment. In November, Architecture 2030 will return to press the issue at COP26 with its president, Vincent Martinez, Hon. AIA—a 15-year colleague of Edward Mazria, FAIA—leading the delegation. That delegation will include former AIA President Carl Elefante, FAIA, who is a Senior Fellow with Architecture 2030. Recently, Martinez and discussed the significance of COP26 and Architecture 2030’s message to the assembled governments and nongovernmental organizations. 

You’ve been working with Edward Mazria and Architecture 2030 since its inception in 2006. What has changed since you and Ed got started and where are you headed? 

Martinez: We’ve always focused on the actions that architects and building sector professionals can take to address climate change, starting with the 2030 Challenge as a call to action for private sector leadership. We’ve also dedicated time to working on policy at all levels—international, national and local governments. More recently, we’ve been working to align those efforts around an updated set of emissions reduction targets to reach the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C carbon budget. The upcoming COP (U.N. Climate Change Conference) in Glasgow the U.K. provides a historic opportunity to amplify the targets—and the building sector’s actions to achieve them. 

What is the COP and why is COP26 so significant? 

Government and business leaders from around the world will be converging at the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Glasgow, Scotland, from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12. The COP has happened nearly every year since countries signed the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1994; this will be the 26th meeting. This COP is of particular significance because it is the fifth meeting since the Paris Agreement (signed at COP21) and nations will be establishing new 2030 emissions reduction targets. 

Additionally, in February, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres declared 2021 the “make or break year” for the planet as a recent UNFCCC report found the 2030 emissions–reduction pledges of 75 countries to be wholly inadequate to achieve the 1.5°C target. 

Architecture 2030 was critical in highlighting the role of the built environment at COP21. How has your message evolved for COP26? 

Architecture 2030 played a major role in the conversation around the built environment at COP21. Along with the French government, the U.N. Environment Programme, and others, we were an “initiating organization” of Buildings Day, which was the first time ever a day was devoted specifically to the building sector at a U.N. climate change conference. Architecture 2030 helped plan the Buildings Day agenda, and our founder, Edward Mazria, delivered a key message with an opening presentation. We were also founding members of the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (GlobalABC), which formed out of COP21 and became the major global collaborative home for our sector.  

COP26 will also feature a “City, Regions and Built Environment Day” dedicated to the built environment under the COP Presidency Program and organized by our partners, including GlobalABC and World Green Building Council. Unfortunately, that day is scheduled to be the second-to-last day in the COP26 agenda and may be ineffective at swaying outcomes of the COP toward more aggressive action. As a result, Architecture 2030 will be pushing the critical role of the built environment on the ground pre-COP and during every day of the conference. We intend to ensure that all assembled governments and NGOs understand that buildings play a massive role in cutting emissions—and that the time for bold moves is now, while we still have a chance to stay within the 1.5°C carbon budget.  

Can architects and building sector professionals truly influence the COP outcomes? What is our role to play? 

The built environment is the largest source of the world’s carbon emissions, contributing approximately 40%. When accounting for the embodied carbon of building interiors, systems, and associated infrastructure, that percentage is substantially higher. The building sector is transforming and taking action to mitigate and adapt to climate change, with a relatively small number of organizations, firms, and sub-national governments responsible for the majority of planning, design, construction, and development globally. By showing what is possible, we -- the architecture, engineering, planning, and construction community -- will embolden governments to do the same. 

This article ran in a slightly different form in ARCHITECT.