Tackling climate change: Identifying global opportunities in response to the IPCC AR6
October 01, 2021
October 01, 2021
Our practitioners share their perspective on the IPCC AR6, including the opportunities these findings provide
The recent release of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) has sparked conversations worldwide about our opportunities and responsibilities to address climate change.
Anticipated by governments, the private sector, and the scientific community, the report provides critical scientific information used to develop policy, innovation, and social change to tackle climate change. The report presents many opportunities to adjust our approach to the built environment, our interactions with nature, and our ability to leverage operational efficiency.
So, we asked a few of our practitioners this exact question. What are the opportunities?
As designers, we have a responsibility to mitigate the contribution of the built environment to the causes of climate change. This includes reducing emissions through low-carbon design and helping communities adapt by creating structures, spaces, and places that can withstand the consequences of climate change.
Buildings are currently responsible for 39% of the global energy-related CO2 emissions. Nearly 28% of this comes from energy consumed by buildings (operational carbon), with the other 11% coming from the extraction, manufacturing, and transportation of construction materials (embodied carbon). Every design decision we make, from systems to material selections, impacts global CO2 emissions. In addition to being an imperative, low-carbon design is also an opportunity for innovative design strategies.
The IPCC AR6 report highlights the opportunity that we, as designers, must apply all our skillsets towards carbon-neutral buildings. In August 2021, the New Buildings Institute of North America identified only 143 certified or verified net-zero energy building projects in North America, with another 582 in progress. If we consider that, per Architecture 2030, two-thirds of the total building area predicted to be in place in 2050 already exists. It is clear we must pay attention to not only the design, construction, and operation of new buildings but also the opportunities to carry out carbon-neutral retrofits of existing buildings.
As an industry framework, we must continue to make progress towards The 2030 Challenge—moving the needle on new and existing building emission reductions from 80% in 2020, to carbon-neutral by 2030.
The most effective way to support this change is to ensure collaboration across building design, science, technology, and policy. On the design side, this includes fusing nature and technology. Designing to the fundamental principles of nature-based solutions to maximize carbon sequestration potential and enhance human health benefits.
Using intelligent building technology and controls in highly insulated building envelopes increases the ability to support change. There is also the opportunity to apply building science-informed construction techniques—such as low-carbon structural systems. When combined into a holistic approach to building design and construction, the responsible application of nature-based solutions, smart building technology, and building science will pivot the industry in the right direction, drive the market, and support regulatory change. Together, these opportunities will begin to bend the graph of CO2 emissions downwards.
Scientific publications—like the AR6—highlight the need to understand, address, and act to limit the devastating effects and frequency of these climate change-related events.
Across much of the globe, extreme weather events are becoming commonplace. We regularly hear about unusual heatwaves, winter storms, rainstorms, flooding events, landslides, drought, and forest fires. Inevitably, this will mean a gradual shift in our seasons and lifestyles. And it can have a significant impact on our health.
Scientific publications—like the AR6—highlight the need to understand, address, and act to limit the devastating effects and frequency of these climate change-related events. We must continue to shift and evolve our design culture so we can be informed and prepared for a future of climate uncertainty.
To do this, we need to assess and understand the increased risk that climate change poses to our infrastructure, systems, and communities. At the same time, we need to quantify how our individual behaviors and actions shape community patterns and contribute to climate change. By understanding these relationships, we can both mitigate and adapt to climate change. We can also become more resilient and support a safer, healthier society—one that protects people and ecosystems.
As citizens, governments, and shareholders shift their thinking around climate change, adaptation allows us to become more resilient to uncertainties. This minimizes damage, loss of life, and mounting recovery costs. As professionals, we are committed to addressing the climate emergency by designing and building more resilient communities and supporting environmental justice initiatives. After all, identifying the risks of climate change today helps prepare our communities for tomorrow.
The AR6 highlights eight coastal and marine characteristics impacted by global climate change. These include sea level, coastal flooding, coastal erosion, ocean temperature, ocean acidity, ocean salinity, and dissolved oxygen concentrations. Interconnected, these characteristics adversely impact the health of Earth's coastal and marine ecosystems—the largest biosphere on the planet providing food for 3.5 billion people.
Adverse changes in critical system drivers, such as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) or Arctic Sea ice, will significantly affect large-scale weather patterns and lead to additional warming. The Arctic regions will continue to experience disproportionally higher and faster impacts, with coastal and marine areas experiencing increased coastal erosion, storms, and flooding resulting from the warming ocean temperature.
Even if GHG emissions stopped today, sea levels will continue to rise and species, habitats, ecosystem function and services, infrastructure, food security, and human well-being will remain impacted for several more decades.
As designers and scientists, we can understand and help reduce the impacts of climate change in our work. Using nature-based solutions, we can increase our resilience to natural disasters and mitigate climate change through enhanced carbon sequestration. Coastal and marine restoration, coastal resilience, and natural capital valuation projects are perfect examples of an integrated and forward-looking solution to help secure a better future.
By understanding the science and risks of climate change, we can bring integrated solutions to local and regional challenges, support sustainability goals, and help mitigate carbon emissions.
Looking at the topics above, we can see the cumulative impacts that climate change has on the environment, our communities, economies, and basic human needs (food/shelter/water). More and more, we continue to see the compounding impacts of weather, including sea-level rise scenarios, and the challenges this will create for communities living in coastal areas—like the tropics.
The IPCC AR6 report identifies that Small Island Developing States (SIDS), and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) will suffer the worst consequences of climate change. Over the coming decades, there will be a need for global development banks to continue to invest hundreds of billions of dollars towards new investments to support SIDS and LDCs to adapt and mitigate these consequences. The private sector will need to play a critical role in delivering smart, agile, and impactful services to support those nations.
Many of the opportunities to assist these developing nations is related to engagement and education. Groups like the Global Climate Change Alliance+—a worldwide initiative by the European Union—helps to facilitate the global sharing of knowledge around climate change. The ability to support developing communities by transferring knowledge to local stakeholders is critical to their success. Whether it is through consultations, workshops, developing policy frameworks, doing critical risk assessments, supporting planning processes, or building partnerships, increased local knowledge can only support the further resilience and mitigation of these communities and their inhabitants.
The IPCC AR6 Report and November's COP26 conference articulate the need for continued and increased capital to be reoriented towards sustainable investment in developing nations. This work will support adaptation to natural disasters, reduce environmental degradation, and address related social issues. Moreover, it will help local and global economies understand and address the associated financial risks of extreme climate weather events—events that may affect global food supplies, natural resources, infrastructure, loss of life, and more. Supporting knowledge share of mitigation opportunities, adaptation practices (including nature-based solutions), climate risk assessments, and scaling innovation will help ease the shift for developing countries, ultimately supporting implementation.