For nearly two decades, Architecture 2030 has shaped 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 climate change. In November, Architecture 2030 will again press the issue, this time at COP26, with its president, Vincent Martinez, Hon. AIA, leading the delegation. Recently, Martinez—a 15-year colleague of Edward Mazria, FAIA—and I talked about the significance of COP26 and Architecture 2030’s message to the assembled governments and nongovernmental organizations.

You have worked with Architecture 2030 since its inception in 2006. What has changed since you and Ed began, and where are you headed?
Martinez: We have 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 worked 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. COP26 provides a historic opportunity to amplify the targets—and the building sector’s actions to achieve them.

What is COP26 and why is it 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 year’s 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 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change report found the 2030 emissions–reduction pledges of 75 countries to be wholly inadequate to achieve the 1.5°C target.

Architecture 2030 underscored the built environment’s role in climate change 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 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 hold a City, Regions and Built Environment Day, dedicated to the built environment, under the COP Presidency Program and organized by our partners, including the GlobalABC and World Green Building Council. Unfortunately, that event 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.

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 ... .

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

An abridged version of this conversation appeared in the September 2021 issue of ARCHITECT.