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2030 Climate Challenge walks the walk

Alan Jones

The RIBA's climate initiative turns words into action. Come and join us

The architects’ profession understands the climate challenge. But being aware is one thing, minimising and negating the impact altogether are much harder targets to reach. So the RIBA is launching the 2030 Climate Challenge setting targets for practices for all their buildings.

In June this year the RIBA joined the global declaration of an environmental and climate emergency. In the same week, the UK government announced a new law to bring greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. 

Many members and practices have signed up to the Architects Declare initiative, joined representatives from across the construction industry on the recent Global Climate Strike, and taken action to increase the sustainability of their projects.   The five presidents’ agreement on the Future of the Profession now has signatories from architects’ institutes from across the world, and calls for supporters to ‘Lead our profession in the fight for a more sustainable built environment. The RIBA’s Ethics and Sustainable Development Commission report provides vital context for our work in this area. 

We know the built environment generates around 40% of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has set a target of limiting the rise in global average temperatures to 1.5°C by the end of the century. It estimates that a further temperature rise of just half a degree would have catastrophic impacts, with rising sea levels, more experiencing water scarcity and severe impact on flora and fauna. From the Ards Peninsula to Cambridgeshire, the Maldives to Venice, low lying and coastal villages, towns and cities are at extreme risk.  Five Solomon Islands have already disappeared. 

As architects we are guardians of the built environment, equipped thanks to our education and continuing professional development with the tools to combine strategic ideas with performance and regulation, choice of material, construction and technology – from initiation to occupancy and use. 

For many years the responsibility for members to be “aware of the environmental impact of their work” has featured in the RIBA Code of Conduct.  The new 2019 RIBA Codes of Conduct and Practice have enhanced requirements around sustainable design and environmental impact.

Across the UK and beyond we need governments to regulate quickly, to set higher environmental targets for new and refurbished building, and the RIBA will be lobbying vigorously for this.

But architects in practice must also take a greater lead in addressing climate change.  That is why the RIBA is launching the 2030 Climate Challenge for RIBA chartered practices. 

The RIBA and its expert Sustainable Futures Group have developed ambitious targets for buildings on operational energy, embodied carbon and mains water use. This has included close engagement with other built environment organisations and with the UK Committee on Climate Change. We will be relying on the profession to consider the most important resources that buildings use or embody in the design process and measure the performance of their buildings by undertaking the simplest form of post occupancy evaluation. We are asking chartered practices to take the challenge on all their projects and commit to work towards these goals, bringing their clients along with them.

There are tips and tools and CPD events to support practices to deliver more sustainable projects on The institute will be launching new guidance through the RIBA Plan of Work 2019 and a detailed guide on Sustainable Outcomes aligned to the UN Sustainable Development Goals later this year. We are also developing a platform to gather building performance data, enabling architects to learn from their own buildings, and from trends drawn from the anonymised data submitted. 

As well as the 2030 Challenge and changes to the codes of conduct and practice, the RIBA has introduced enhanced sustainability criteria for RIBA awards. This year’s Stirling Prize shortlist is arguably the most sustainable one ever.  Hundreds attended the RIBA London Sustainable Architecture Festival last month, and I’m excited to hear about other RIBA events centring on sustainability around the UK.

The time for talking, stalling and vague targets is over. Architects and the whole of the construction industry must pick up the pace as time is short.

Will you, and the practice you work with, take up the 2030 Challenge?