Where we stand: Climate change

Ganvie 2750-cropped

Stilt houses in Ganvie, Benin. Image: Iwan Baan

Scientific consensus shows that increasing atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide contribute significantly to rising sea levels, extreme weather events and degradation of natural resources. These trends threaten national security, human health, food supply, natural ecosystems and global economies. Climate change clearly is one of the biggest global crises of the 21st century.

The American Institute of Architects asserts that architects play a vital role in combating climate change. Buildings are major producers of carbon, so climate change poses both major obstacles and opportunities for the profession. We accept these challenges.

We uphold the following principles:

  • The US must lead the fight against climate change. The federal government must maintain America’s global leadership in the design and construction of carbon neutral buildings. Current federal policies that set goals by 2030 for carbon neutrality in federal buildings are already creating major advances in energy efficient design.
  • We believe that the business case for reducing the carbon footprint of buildings is stronger than ever before. Studies show that sustainable and energy efficient buildings command rent premiums of 2 percent to 8 percent, occupancy increases of 3 percent to 10 percent and sales premiums of 3 percent to 12 percent. High performance and sustainable homes in the Washington, DC market command sales premiums of 3.5 percent. (Source: Energy Efficiency in Separate Tenant Spaces – A Feasibility Study)
  • We know that carbon neutral design and construction is a growth industry. Employers from roughly 165,000 US companies doing energy efficiency work expect employment to grow 13 percent over the coming year, adding 245,000 more jobs. (Source: Energy Efficiency Jobs in America). In Philadelphia alone, 77 percent of the city's buildings need energy retrofits, supporting the creation of 23,000 jobs. (Source: Energy Benchmarking and Transparency Benefits- June 2015). We call on policymakers to protect financing and incentives to help communities design, build and retrofit their building stock.
  • We believe that the climate change battle will be won or lost in cities. Three-quarters of global carbon emissions come from the 2 percent of the Earth’s land surface occupied by urban communities. While architects can drive greater efficiency and performance from urban areas, we need municipalities and urban design financiers to work as true partners in the climate change battle.
  • We understand how buildings contribute to climate change. Almost 40 percent of all US energy is consumed by buildings, which produce carbon through heating, cooling and lighting and through their construction. Architects can reduce such operational and embodied carbon production with passive design techniques, energy efficiency measures and low-impact building materials, which increase human health and productivity. Architects also integrate renewable energy sources into buildings, making them more sustainable, resilient and economical. We call on lawmakers to retain and extend tax incentives that underwrite such energy-efficient design and construction.
  • Designing and building resilient buildings is not a choice, it’s an imperative. As temperatures and weather become more extreme and severe, four global warming impacts alone—hurricane damage, real estate losses, energy and water costs—will come with a price tag of 1.8 percent of US GDP alone, or almost $1.9 trillion annually (in today’s dollars) by 2100. (Source: NRDC Climate Change Costs Study Estimates 3.6 percent of US GCP in 2100)
  • Codes, standards, and evidence-based rating systems are essential to creating a high-performing, resilient built environment. We stand for the development, adoption and enforcement of comprehensive and coordinated building codes that mandate energy efficient design and construction.
  • Collaboration is the key to climate change mitigation. Architects have the skills and experience to help protect the planet from the effects of climate change. But only by working and communicating globally with policymakers, the building industry and the general public can we effectively address the climate change challenge.

Image credits

Ganvie 2750-cropped

Iwan Baan