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Towards Net 0: Foster + Partners Show Lead, Will Others Follow?

Posted by
on June 14, 2019 at 01:34 PM

It is 2019, and right around the corner is 2020. Climate change due to unchecked fossil carbon emissions and its consequential threat to life as we know it on our planet is proven, accepted and looming large, notwithstanding the naysayers. According to the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction 2018 Global Status Report, building construction and operations account for nearly 40% of global CO2 emissions. Clearly, as a bulk contributor to the resulting climate change, the construction industry has the onus of initiating the process of redressal for this damage as well. And, even more clearly, it is in the design and the technology of building, in how and with what we build that needs to revolutionise in order to effect any real redressal or change. The problem having thus been brought to the doorstep of the designers, the architects and engineers, the fraternity has been recently intensely invested in research for innovative solutions to it. The resultant breaking news comes from the UK firm Foster + Partners, one of the leading architectural practices worldwide, who have pledged to go completely carbon neutral in all their new buildings by 2030, and even in their existing projects by 2050.

© Courtesy of internet resources

The burning of fossil fuels for energy contributes to the continuous emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, leading to a sustained carbon overload therein which is changing our climate and our planet’s biodiversity, a phenomenon which spells sure doom for our lives if allowed to continue. Scientists have pronounced a period of just 15 years available for us to slow down the progress of climate change. Unless we adopt a paradigm shift in the way we build and use our buildings today, the chances of escape from this impending doom wrought by climate change do not exist. This reality was formally recognised by a conglomerate of UK based architects in May 2019 as was the lack of a collective will to constructively address the problem. Resultantly, they came together to sign a charter recognising this climate emergency and committing to strengthen work practices which have a positive impact on the environment.

Called Architects Declare, the charter, signed by leading UK based architectural firms like Foster+Partners, David Chipperfield, Zaha Hadid Architects and others, have pledged to work with their clients to commission and design buildings, cities and infrastructure as indivisible components of a larger regenerating and self-sustaining environment. The signatories’ (all Stirling Prize winners) framework for enabling this fundamental shift in working perspectives outlines several points of action. These include raising awareness about the urgency for change among clients and material suppliers, advocating for faster shift towards regenerative practices in the industry and for prioritised government funding for the same, establish and demonstrate through recognitions principles of climate and ecological responsiveness as the key measures of success, share related knowledge and research on an open source basis, evaluate projects in terms of aspiration to contribute positively towards mitigating climate breakdown and encourage clients to do the same. They also list measures like extending the life of existing buildings through upgradations as opposed to demolishing and reconstructing them, including lifecycle costing, whole life carbon modelling and post occupancy evaluation into the basic scope of the project and generally encourage more regenerative principles to be practiced. Also advocated in the list are measures to reduce construction waste in collaboration with engineers, contractors and clients, shifting to low embodied carbon materials and minimising wasteful use of resources.

Adopting these and other stringent green building measures like passive heating/ cooling and sourcing energy from alternate producers has enabled Foster+Partners to step up further and commit to 100% carbon neutrality in all their future projects by the year 2030. Forging further ahead, they have also promised to enable zero carbon emissions in all their existing projects by 2050, leading from the front in thwarting climate change as one of the leading architectural and urban planning practices worldwide. Some of their largest current projects which aim for mitigated carbon emissions include the plans for Indian state Andhra Pradesh’s capital city Amaravati and the futuristic Masdar city in the UAE. Speaking of cities, Copenhagen aims to be the first carbon neutral capital city in the world by the year 2025 – the closest of all deadlines by far!

This indicates a heads up to countries other than the UK or others from the developed western world, to areas in the developing world where, with basic necessities like shelter for all not having been met, a great deal of construction still needs to be undertaken. What form will this construction activity take on and will it catch up with the developed world in the race against climate change? China is already the world capital in terms of volume of construction activity; will it be able to adequately replace the green cover lost in the process? India has a target of housing for all by 2022 which translates into construction of millions of homes. What kind of construction technology shall we adopt and what is the toll it will take on our already polluted atmosphere? Will the Indian Prime Minister’s initiative of the Smart City project incorporate plans for minimising carbon emissions effectively to achieve a well-timed net zero? Carbon neutrality can only be achieved if the net carbon emissions during the entire life cycle of a building come to nought or can be totally offset by the carbon absorption capacities created simultaneously in its surroundings. Hopefully, the entire world will come to the party well in time to achieve the global net zero carbon target and successfully slow down, and eventually thwart the ominously looming catastrophe of climate change.

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