Beijing smog as seen from the China World Hotel, March 2003
Flickr user Kevin Dooley Beijing smog as seen from the China World Hotel, March 2003

The International Union of Architects (UIA) unanimously adopted the 2050 Imperative, a plan to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from the built environment worldwide by 2050, at the UIA World Congress in Durban, South Africa, last week. The organization represents about 1.3 million architects across the world through 124 national member sections, including the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

According to the UIA’s declaration, urban environments account for over 70 percent of global energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions, mostly from buildings. Over the next 20 years, it is projected that an area nearly equivalent to 60 percent of the world’s total building stock will be built and rebuilt in urban centers globally. The UIA recognizes this as an opportunity for it to work to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by setting the global building sector on a path to achieve the 2050 Imperative.

“We have made great strides towards a sustainable built environment, but we still need to advance the industry to make sustainable design the de facto standard for all construction projects,” said AIA president Helene Combs Dreiling, FAIA, in a press release. “Sustainable design practices implemented by the world’s architects will mitigate climate change and ultimately save lives.”

By adopting this initiative, the UIA has identified key objectives for the architecture and construction industry to meet the 2050 goals:

—Plan and design cities, towns, urban developments, new buildings, to be carbon neutral, meaning they use no more energy over the course of a year than they produce, or import, from renewable energy sources.

—Renovate and rehabilitate existing cities, towns, urban redevelopments and buildings to be carbon neutral whilst respecting cultural and heritage values.

—In those cases where reaching carbon neutral is not feasible or practical, plan and design cities, towns, urban developments, new buildings, and renovations to be highly efficient with the capability to produce, or import, all their energy from renewable energy sources in the future.

—We commit to the principle of engaging in research and setting targets towards meeting the 2050 goal.

—Advocate and promote socially responsible architecture for the community

—Develop and deliver equitable access to the information and tools needed to:

         —Plan and design sustainable, resilient, inclusive and low-carbon/zero-carbon built environments.

         —Design no-cost/low-cost, on-site renewable energy and natural resources systems (e.g., passive heating and cooling, water catchment and storage, solar hot water, daylighting, and natural ventilation systems).

In the UIA declaration, the organization cited the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference, which will reconvene in Paris in 2015 with the goal of reaching a new agreement on phasing out CO2 emissions from worldwide power and industrial sectors by 2050, and all GHG emissions from energy systems by the second half of the 21st century. By adopting this initiative, the UIA states that it “will send a strong message to the Parties of the UNFCCC, and to the world, that we are committed to a truly sustainable and equitable future.”

Image used via a Creative Commons License with Flickr user Kevin Dooley