How AIA is helping to combat the climate crisis at COP27
For the second year in a row, AIA is sending representatives to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27), an annual Conference that brings together government officials and nongovernmental organizations to collaborate on ways to combat the climate crisis. AIA is attending the 2022 event, taking place from November 6-18 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in an official capacity as an NGO observer.
“COP27 is the largest global conversation about the impact of climate change; AIA is the largest professional design institution in the world. If we’re not sitting at the table, then who should be,” posited Illya Azaroff, FAIA, Director of Design, Resilience and Regenerative Strategies at +LAB Architect PLLC, one of the eight AIA delegates attending COP27.
“COP27 is the largest global conversation about the impact of climate change, AIA is the largest professional design institution in the world. If we’re not sitting at the table, then who should be,” - Illya Azaroff, FAIA
“I just want to help change the world. We’re all in the same boat, caught in the same storm. Everyone is paddling towards that horizon and architects play a distinct role in guiding that ship,” said Azaroff. “If we can help steer that boat one or two degrees in the right direction, then that is what I want to do.”
Erica Cochran Hameen, Ph.D, AIA, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Assistant Professor at Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture, said she is looking forward to hearing people from around the world talk about solutions to climate change.
“There’s not one solution that is going to get us where we need to get; we have to work across disciplines. It’s going to have to be architects, engineers, computer scientists, finance people and policymakers all working together to come up with innovative ideas to fight climate change,” she said. “I’m excited to attend the sessions, but I’m also looking forward to having conversations with our allied professions. Everyone there knows we’re in this together, and I’m looking forward to walking into a space where everyone has the same agenda and the same desire to collaborate.”
In addition to Azaroff and Hameen, AIA delegates at COP27 include 2022 President Dan Hart, FAIA; Lakisha Woods, CAE, EVP/Chief Executive Officer; Vicky Schneider, Senior Advisor; Kathleen Lane, AIA, Managing Director, Sustainability & Resilience; Kara Kempski, Director, Federal Relations; and Derek Washam, Director, International Relations, Advocacy & Relationships.
“Look around, AIA is the biggest organization of design professionals in the world, no one else on the global stage is able to fill the role that we play in these conversations,” said Mike Davis, FAIA, Principal and Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Bergmeyer who attended COP26 as an AIA delegate last year.
“We really wanted to change the perception of what architects do. All of us as AIA members, our status becomes elevated when the world understands that we can do more than draw pretty pictures of buildings. We can help improve people’s lives and as we gain success at COP conferences, that perception improves,” he said.
For Davis, the biggest takeaway from COP26 was that private entities have an important role to play in combatting climate change.
“Private enterprise has a huge role to play, we cannot sit around waiting for governments to solve this crisis,” Davis said. “The real estate industry is massive, the potential to be part of the solution is huge. If we can speed up the plow and get the real estate sector ready to decarbonize then we can be in a much better place.”
Davis said that attending COP26 was “exhilarating,” and said that being in a place with thousands of people who are “incredibly smart and dedicated to solving the climate crisis” was an experience he won’t soon forget.
“You’re exchanging cards with people and you’re talking to people from other NGOs or from governments around the world. When someone would ask why we’re here it was exciting, it was a chance to explain who we are, talk about our strategic plan, explain how we’re committed to the climate crisis and just showcase that architects have an important role to play,” he said.
A seat at the table
Much of Hameen’s career as an academic has been dedicated to “equitable sustainability,” which she says aligns with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how these issues related to women, low-income people, children, and more.
“Architects can advocate for the importance of quality buildings and quality design. Look at schools for example, there is a direct statistical correlation between physical conditions of a school building with test scores, and absenteeism, and teacher turnover,” she said. “If we want to talk about why architects should have a seat at the table, then think about how architects are the builders of cities. We can help keep carbon emissions down and help keep people healthy from young to old.”
Additionally, Hameen believes it’s important for architects, and architecture students especially, to keep aware of what is happening at events like COP27.
“Students have seen it their whole lives, the hurricanes are getting bigger, the storms are getting bigger. We’ve had extreme heatwaves, not just in the global south, but much of the southern and western parts of America, it’s happening here,” she said. “They’ve grown up seeing devastation from hurricanes and typhoons, but they want to be hopeful and know what we can do. My job is to teach them, and my job at COP27 is to talk to the best people I can and help find solutions. I always tell my students I don’t have all the answers, but I’ll work with you and for you to find those answers.”
Azaroff is looking forward to finding those answers and ensuring that the specific expertise of architects is seen as necessary in that search.
“AIA’s main goals at COP27 are to communicate the value of what design and architecture as professions bring to climate action. That is really big and demonstrating what we have done is proof of that,’ he said. “We also need to illuminate that our value isn’t just helping reducing carbon, but there’s another side of the coin: disaster risk reduction. That helps communities immediately in the wake of hurricanes, and storms, and droughts, and wildfires. That is a value proposition that we can bring to this conversation.”
Ultimately, Azaroff knows architects need to have a seat at the table in climate change conversations because of their innate and creative problem-solving abilities.
“The world is on fire, and we need to bring every bucket we have to get that fire out. We have 94,000 members and every day at their practices they are creating solutions. We are so well positioned to have creative solutions, to help change the world,” he said. “There is no better profession better suited to bring projects to fruition and that is us.”
Karwai Tang, UK Government
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