Landscape Architects Will Press for Transformative Climate Action at COP27

ASLA 2019 Professional General Design Honor Award. Chulalongkorn University Centenary Park, Bangkok, Thailand / LANDPROCESS

For the first time, ASLA has secured observer status at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP27, which will be held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, November 6-18. And two ASLA climate leaders will be there to represent landscape architects in the U.S. and worldwide — Kotchakorn Voraakhom, International ASLA, founder of Landprocess; and Pamela Conrad, ASLA, founder of Climate Positive Design and chair of the ASLA Climate Action Plan Task Force.

At COP27, Conrad will highlight the vision and goals of the ASLA Climate Action Plan, which will be released November 12. The plan builds on the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) Climate Action Commitment announced at COP26 in 2021.

“Landscape architects are uniquely qualified to scale-up nature-based solutions that can help solve the climate crisis and prevent its adverse effects. We are going to COP27 to advocate for change that will accelerate carbon drawdown and reduce emissions while supporting health, biodiversity, and resilience for the world’s most underserved communities,” Conrad said.

DePave Park, Alameda, California / CMG Landscape Architecture

“We can’t just wait for world leaders and policymakers to fix the climate crisis. Landscape architects are stepping up, getting our seat at the table, and letting the world know our knowledge and know-how. Nature-based solutions, especially ecosystem-based adaptation, can be done through an integrated approach that respects nature and cultural integrity,” said Voraakhom.

Concerns are growing about the lack of governmental commitment to make greater progress at COP27. While President Biden is expected to attend and tout the Inflation Reduction Act, which puts the U.S. on a solid path towards mostly cutting emissions by 50 percent by 2030, other significant progress may not be forthcoming.

“At the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow last year, all countries agreed to revisit and strengthen their climate plans,” explained Simon Stiell, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, to The Washington Post. “The fact that only 24 new or updated climate plans were submitted since COP26 is disappointing.”

A recent report from the United Nations has found the latest commitments from the 193 countries that signed on to the Paris Climate Accord in 2015 aren’t enough to limit global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F). The world is now on track to warm by 2.1 to 2.9°C by the end of the century. And scientists have found each incremental increase in temperatures will expose tens of millions more people worldwide to increasingly dangerous heat, flooding, wildfires, and drought.

In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found global emissions must be cut by 45-50 percent by 2030 to keep the 1.5°C goal within reach. But according to the recent United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Emissions Gap report, current commitments will actually lead to an increase of emissions by 10.6 percent by 2030 based on 2010 levels. (The UN notes this is slightly lower than the 13.7 percent increase projected by 2030 last year).

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, told BBC News: “We had our chance to make incremental changes, but that time is over. Only a root-and-branch transformation of our economies and societies can save us from accelerating climate disaster.” And that transformation must ramp up over the next 8 years.

The UNEP report has found that $4-6 trillion in investment is needed each year to equitably transition to renewable energy and transform transportation systems and the built environment and stave off future catastrophes.

At COP27, Voraakhom, Conrad, and ASLA will call for faster emission reductions and greater carbon sequestration through landscapes. This year’s COP will also focus on the needs of the Global South and ensuring equitable access to nature-based adaptation solutions. They will argue that adaptation efforts should restore and support biodiversity and ecosystems, which are increasingly threatened by climate change.

One key message to global policymakers: landscape architects are here to partner with communities around the world and plan and design transformative climate solutions that strengthen our collective resilience over the long-term.

Houston Arboretum and Nature Center, Houston, Texas. Design Workshop and Reed Hilderbrand / Brandon Huttenlocher/Design Workshop

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