The Australian Institute of Architects (the Institute) has signed a landmark agreement that will enable vital knowledge and expertise to be shared between Commonwealth countries to address twin global challenges of rapid urbanisation and environmental degradation.
The agreement has been signed by over 15 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 urgent climate-related threats – are equipped with the capacity and skills to create inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable urban areas.
The CAA warns that unless current trends are reversed, rapid urbanisation will have a devastating impact on our eco-systems, with serious social, economic, and environmental consequences. This is especially the case for coastal cities, and cities in small island developing states.
Led by the CAA, the agreement – which consists of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) – underscores 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 other countries 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.
The Australian Institute of Architects’ National President Stuart Tanner said:
“As human population exponentially increases, we are in urgent need of strategic thinking to mitigate our impact on the planet, including implementing initiatives to shift away from rapid urbanisation. The CAA brings together that thinking as a collegiate body of expertise and an agent for change. This agency aims to improve the future for marginalised communities already feeling direct impact from climate change and improve urban outcomes for prosperous centres alike. The collective knowledge sharing within the CAA will be a potent enabler of innovation for the built environment worldwide. The Institute is proud to be a signatory to this landmark MOU with the CAA.”
International Chapter Chair Justin Hill said:
“Through the lens of our membership of the CAA, we are able see how pressures we face in our country in the practice of responsible architecture, and in our response to climate change are magnified in some parts of the world, due to rapid urbanisation, inequity in education and in policy shortcomings. Some of our Pacific neighbours are facing imminent disaster with rising ocean levels, as one clear example of this, and what happens in the Pacific will ultimately affect all of us.
What began as a series of exploratory discussions to address these issues between our Institute, the International Chapter and the CAA, and then with the RIBA and the Royal Architectural institute of Canada soon lead to an opportunity to more productively work together in a wider platform through the sharing of knowledge and through collective political advocacy to apply pressure on regional and global forums for more effective change. 12 other national Institutes under the CAA umbrella soon joined this, and the landmark MOU to work together for initially 3 years and into the future with all 15 nations was signed recently. Others will soon join this.
As architects, planners, and educators, we have a great responsibility for the quality of our built environment and for the protection of the lands and oceans that sustain us all. In this unique collaboration we look forward to engagement with all the Institute membership on the tasks that lie ahead of us to effect change.”
Commonwealth Association of Architects (CAA) President, Peter Oborn, said:
“The CAA is grateful to the founding signatories for their commitment to this exciting new partnership and are encouraged by the high level of interest that has been shown by member organisations. The initiative has been developed in direct response to the findings of a Survey of Built Environment Professions in the Commonwealth which identified a critical lack of capacity in many of the Commonwealth countries which are experiencing rapid urbanisation and are among the most vulnerable to climate impacts. Only by working together in this way will we be able to confront the challenges we face, and the Commonwealth with its shared values, provides the perfect platform from which to do so.”