The Challenge

Keeping within a limit of 1.5°C of global warming, the figure agreed by scientists as the maximum possible to avoid catastrophic impacts, requires radical and systemic changes to current practices around land, energy, transport, buildings and infrastructure to reduce carbon emissions to zero over the next 30 years. We also need to move beyond a focus on carbon reduction - our cities and infrastructure should be adapted to become resilient to future climate impacts and we need to reverse biodiversity loss.

The construction industry is responsible for anywhere between 35% and 45% of the UK’s carbon emissions; and the amount of carbon released has increased since 1990 (UK GBC 2020). Whilst there are paradigmatic examples of carbon efficient buildings, the transformation is not far-reaching enough to achieve the carbon targets necessary to limit warming to 1.5°C. Very often the approach to acknowledging climate crisis in design can seem to be a tick box exercise. And, too often, biodiversity issues are not considered in an integrated fashion in terms of its loss and its contribution to climate mitigation and adaptation.

At a global level, the UN Sustainable Development Goals provide a framework that combines action on climate and biodiversity emergency with issues of global social justice and equality. Policy and practice at various scales also continues to regulate for climate change in the built environment. By 2050, the UK aims to have net zero emissions. In addition, developers will soon have to demonstrate a 10 per cent increase in biodiversity in order to obtain planning permission. Here at the MSA, we support initiatives to address the climate and ecological emergency such as Architecture Education Declares, UK Landscape Architects Declare, Architects Climate Action Network, and the Landscape Institute’s Climate and Biodiversity Action Plan.

What we will do

Through our teaching, practice, and extra-curricular activities we will:

  • Ensure that knowledge of the climate and ecological emergency is embedded throughout our programmes and not treated as a purely technical issue.
  • Place an awareness of climate justice at the heart of our teaching on the Climate Emergency.
  • Require our teaching to include a diversity of voices and positions. Addressing the climate emergency goes together with the decolonisation and widening of our teaching remit. We will not shoe-horn our students into particular ways of thinking about the climate emergency, but enable a plurality of critical positions to develop.
  • Require our ateliers to develop their personal critical position on the climate and biodiversity emergency.
  • Support building re-use as a primary response. We will highlight that building re-use is for both community and environmental benefit by teaching:
    • The identification of communal need through viable long-term uses/ programmes.
    • Retrofitting and energy efficiency principles concerning traditional buildings.
    • Contemporary conservation and adaptation principles to meet the climate and biodiversity emergency.
  • Establish cross-disciplinary dialogue within our programmes, and in the wider university, as addressing the climate emergency requires various forms of knowledge to inform one another.
  • Support and encourage our students to become activists, to engage with policy, and to advocate for change within the discipline.
  • We will embed action on materials and energy throughout our activities by:
    • Highlighting the interconnectedness of climate change and global development – this cannot be a campaign led by the ‘West’ only but one jointly developed with collaboration and an understanding of the issues seen from the ‘South’.
    • Encouraging and support our students to evaluate the use of carbon-intensive materials in their projects.
    • Highlighting the range of material properties to consider: weight, location, transportation, embodied carbon, lifecycle, maintenance, and reuse/recycling.
    • Encouraging and supporting students to use recycled/recyclable materials in model-making.
    • Ensuring all students are aware of the inter-related nature of the climate and ecological impacts of human activity, and develop an understanding of broad ecological principles.
    • Educating students on implementing vegetation and soil technologies as climate and ecological solutions to a range of climate and biodiversity impacts (e.g. urban heat island/flood mitigation, wind, carbon capture, habitat creation, pollution reduction).
    • Developing links with construction professionals (and students) to develop mutual understanding and communication skills.