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Landmark Commonwealth pact to counter climate impact as urban populations set to double

Posted: 5th July 2023

A landmark agreement has been made that will enable vital knowledge and expertise to be shared between Commonwealth countries to address the twin global challenges of rapid urbanisation and environmental degradation.

The agreement has been signed by 10 members of the Commonwealth Association of Architects (CAA) representing national architecture professional bodies in Commonwealth countries across five continents. The initiative seeks to ensure that all member countries, particularly those experiencing the fastest expansion of their towns and cities and facing the most urgent climate-related threats, are adequately equipped with the capacity and skills to create inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable urban areas.

The CAA warns that, unless currents trends are reversed, rapid urbanisation will have a devastating impact on our eco-systems, with serious social, economic, and environmental consequences, especially for coastal cities, and cities in small island developing states.

Led by the CAA and developed in partnership with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the agreement – consisting of a Memorandum of Understanding – underlines the central role that built environment professionals can play in developing solutions to global sustainability challenges.

The initiative highlights that:

  • Cities already consume more than two thirds of the world’s energy and account for more than 70% of all carbon emissions.
  • Over the next 30 years the populations of cities in Commonwealth countries are expected to double from one billion to two billion people, accounting for nearly 50% of the forecasted growth in the world’s urban population by 2050.
  • With 95% of the cities most at risk from climate change located in Africa and Asia, many Commonwealth countries are among those most vulnerable to climate change impact.
  • Many of the countries urbanising most rapidly, suffer a critical lack of built environment capacity and expertise. For example, Uganda, only has around 250 architects and 100 planners, despite having a population of 48 million, urbanising at a rate of over 6% per year. By comparison, the UK has 41,500 architects and 22,000 planners and a population of 67 million, urbanising at a rate of 1% a year.
  • This lack of professional capacity is often coupled with a lack of capacity in education and weaknesses in areas such as planning and building codes, especially in the public sector and in secondary cities where most urban dwellers live.

To counter this, the CAA-led initiative will use the Commonwealth and its networks, focusing most urgently on countries facing the most immediate challenges. Activities will include collaboration to develop capacity in areas including policy and legislation, learning and development, and urban planning and design. It will aim to increase professional competency and climate literacy in sustainable urbanisation and climate action.

The initiative will also support advocacy for those countries in greatest need, while encouraging national governments and donors to offer assistance and investment. It is hoped that this will increase the pipeline of sustainable building projects that are also financially viable and beneficial to local communities.

Designed to facilitate a dynamic exchange between the signatory organisations, the agreement recognises that some commonwealth countries are already dealing with the direct impacts of climate change that others are likely to face in years or decades to come.

The list of founding signatory organisations is as follows:

  • Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK)
  • Antigua & Barbuda Institute of Architects (ABIA)
  • Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA)
  • Barbados Institute of Architects (BIA)
  • Institute of Architects Bangladesh (IAB)
  • Institute of Architects Pakistan (IAP)
  • Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC)
  • Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)
  • Trinidad & Tobago Institute of Architects (TTIA)
  • Uganda Society of Architects (USA)

All CAA Member Organisations have been invited to become signatories.

Royal Institute of British Architects, Chief Executive Dr Valerie Vaughan-Dick MBE said:

Architects and other built environment professionals have a fundamental role to play in tackling the climate emergency. Our towns and cities are key contributors to carbon emissions, but also places where creative sustainable solutions can and must be realised.

As an institute with global reach, we at RIBA have a responsibility to use every tool at our disposal to address climate change - both in the UK and beyond. This partnership, led by the CAA, is an excellent example of how we, and our counterparts across the world, can use our knowledge, expertise, and influence to make a material difference. And we are equally committed to learning from other countries who are already facing the impacts of climate change, as we all must adapt to the realities of a warmer planet.

Read the Memorandum of Understanding.