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Architects participation essential to control carbon emissions

2030 is just 11 years away and we have reached now or never stage in Climate Change challenge. Unless we start acting (if not started already) we may not get a second chance to correct the past wrongs. Climate change is the biggest threat humanity is currently facing and Mission “1.5 degrees” is the challenge we have to face together. There is an urgent need for a dramatic retooling of the global production and consumption toward low or zero greenhouse gas approaches by roughly 2030. Since challenge is massive, it requires transformational thinking, integration, and big movements.

We have no option but to limit the global warming to 1.5°C which would in turn require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society. According to IPCC report published last year,  a number of climate change impacts that could be avoided by limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2°C, or more. For instance, by 2100, global sea level rise would be 10 cm lower with global warming of 1.5°C compared with 2°C. The likelihood of an Arctic Ocean free of sea ice in summer would be once per century with global warming of 1.5°C, compared with at least once per decade with 2°C. Coral reefs would decline by 70-90 percent with global warming of 1.5°C, whereas virtually all (> 99 percent) would be lost with 2°C. The half-degree difference could also prevent corals from being completely eradicated and ease pressure on the Arctic. In other words, we’re already at 1warming and seeing some significant impacts; 1.50is going to have more severe impacts; 2has even more and above at 2nobody may be left on earth to see the impact.

These warnings by scientists and environmentalists seem to have little impact on some powerful people. Since Paris climate talks in 2016 the gap between science and politics has widened. Donald Trump has promised to withdraw the US – the world’s biggest source of historical emissions – from the accord.His announcement comes after US seeing series of devastating hurricanes in recent years which the scientists attribute to global warming. But nothing can deter the President from taking this foolhardy decision.

The good news is that some of the kinds of actions that would be needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C are already underway around the world, but they would need to accelerate. Limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. This means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2from the air.

Use of coal in power generation should drop by 60-80% from 2010 level by 2030. Renewable energy sources would need to grow by roughly 100-500 percent, reaching about half of total global electricity generation by 2030. Math can work but what we need is mechanism through which to reach that level. Indeed, limiting warming through the laws of chemistry and physics on paper much easier than actually achieving it on the ground. For this, far more determination and wider participation by all is needed. Also remember, we are physically and technologically well versed to achieve these targets but it is up to us to figure out what social and political approaches we have to take to implement those pathways.

Architecture is one profession whose active participation is essential if we have to succeed in mission “1.5 degrees.” According to various studies, built environment accounts for 40-45% of the carbon emissions and to achieve the 2030 target, built environment will be the main target area to focus on. And without the active support and help of the architecture fraternity, this target can never be achieved.  Changing how we value the built environment, making sustainable, smart, investments to build a lasting legacy is in the public interest. LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) no doubt has been an excellent way of raising public awareness of sustainable buildings. But that’s not enough. New buildings need to reach for more than LEED Gold and existing ones need to be retrofitted to make them energy efficient and improve the carbon footprint. Retrofitting the existing buildings to improve their carbon footprint is as important as building new sustainable structures and architects should give equal importance for both.

There is no denying that human activity is having an impact on our planet. By improving our carbon footprint not only do we do something good for the planet, we improve our quality of life and save money. If we fail to do that, there is no need to fight a third World War, our inability to fight carbon emission itself will destroy the human race from the world.

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