COP27

"Hard to find causes for optimism" say architects as COP27 begins in Sharm El-Sheikh

Architects and built environment sustainability experts have expressed frustration at the slow pace of global action to reduce carbon emissions as the COP27 climate-change summit kicks off in Egypt.

British architect and co-initiator of campaign group Architects Declare Michael Pawlyn told Dezeen it was "hard to find causes for optimism".

"It is very hard to be hopeful," echoed Kenyan architect Kabage Karanja, pointing to a failure to properly involve young people and a lack of will from richer countries to find the money to deal with the effects of global heating.

"COP26 was bitterly disappointing"

"The outcome from the official negotiations of COP26 was bitterly disappointing," added Studio Bark. "We should be circumspect about placing much hope in this process."

The London architecture studio argued the Conference of the Parties (COP) format has been proven ineffective and should be scrapped altogether.

But Arup director for climate and sustainability Matt Kennedy struck a more positive tone.

"My expectations are high," he said. "In terms of outcome, I want a global approach to climate action and sustainable development that is robust and defensible and that preserves ecological stability."

Dezeen spoke to 11 architects and engineers as the 27th COP, which is also known as the United Nations Climate Change conference, gets underway.

This year's conference, which will run from 6 to 18 November in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, is likely to grab fewer headlines than last year's COP26 summit in Glasgow as world leaders will not be negotiating a global climate pact this time around.

Instead, the focus will be on how last year's commitments can be implemented.

The sustainable architecture experts Dezeen spoke to called for COP27 to result in tangible action to urgently reduce the built environment's carbon emissions, as well as prepare it for the effects of climate change.

"No excuse for unhealthy, inefficient, high-emitting buildings"

"We hope that the focus shifts from goal-setting to imminently actionable solutions that address whole-life carbon emission reductions in the built environment," said Sindhu Mahadevan of Canadian studio Michael Green Architecture.

"The built environment already has the solutions and innovations to change the trajectory of current climate change projections," added World Green Building Council CEO Cristina Gamboa.

"This means that in this day and age there is absolutely no excuse for unhealthy, inefficient, high-emitting buildings."

"By now, it should be clear to everyone that we cannot leave the fight against climate change to our politicians alone," said Sinus Lynge, partner at Danish architecture studio EFFEKT.

"So I hope that COP27 will empower specific climate action across society from politicians to organisations, companies, communities and individuals," he added.

And Alexandra Hagen, CEO of Swedish studio White Arkitekter, was among those who urged governments not to let other global issues like the war in Ukraine hinder decarbonisation.

"At COP27 we want to see that geopolitical instability and the threat of global recession does not slow our pace towards a zero-carbon shift," she said.

Read on for selected pre-conference thoughts from architects and engineers.


Kabage Karanja portrait

"Architects are far too often passive bystanders"
Kabage Karanja, co-founder of Cave Bureau

"It is very hard to be hopeful when there is not enough active involvement of young people in and out of the so-called Conference of Parties. Which parties are these invited to the table, we ask? To quote the young African climate activist Patience Nabukalu from Uganda: 'World leaders at COP27 Egypt we are watching you. Discussing climate change without the active involvement of young people is an injustice to us.'"

"Beyond this glaring injustice, it is critical to recognise that there is very little economic will from the largest world economies, and for that matter the largest polluters, to not only reduce emissions and address climate-change impacts that are adversely affecting Global South nations but, importantly, to commit financially to bear the costs required to recover from these adverse effects."

"It is estimated that Africa, for example, needs about $53 billion annually in finance by 2030. Getting this commitment from the so-called developed nations is beyond hope, it is a pipe dream. The fund is postured more as a donation and less as compensation for past crimes against humanity and indeed all life on earth. This by extension naturally makes it less urgent for Global North nations to deal with climate justice head-on."

"As far as I'm concerned, architects are far too often passive bystanders when addressing climate justice. Our profession as a whole was, and still is, part of this climate-changing machinery that seldom confronts itself as such. Architects can no longer be afraid to give the necessary pushback to the prevailing powers to address climate justice immediately, even if it means biting the hands that feed you."


Portrait of Michael Pawlyn

"Hard to find causes for optimism"
Michael Pawlyn, founder of Exploration Architecture

"It seems that Alok Sharma has done a good job as COP president but his efforts have been undermined by a system that increasingly resembles a kakistocracy rather than a democracy. It is therefore hard to find causes for optimism."

"As Architects Declare, we have made multiple attempts to meet with ministers to explain how architects and the broader industry could provide multiple solutions to the planetary emergency. It's perfectly possible to address the cost of living crisis and climate change at the same time, with an emergency programme to upgrade the energy efficiency of our buildings."

"More broadly, I hope to see more countries join the Wellbeing Group of Governments – an initiative launched by Iceland, New Zealand and Scotland with the intention of realigning the purpose of their economies towards maximising long-term wellbeing rather than the outdated and dangerous pursuit of endless GDP growth."


Cristina Gamboa, World GBC CEO

"There is absolutely no excuse for unhealthy, inefficient, high-emitting buildings"
Cristina Gamboa, CEO of the World Green Building Council

"The built environment already has the solutions and innovations to change the trajectory of current climate change projections. This means that in this day and age, there is absolutely no excuse for unhealthy, inefficient, high-emitting buildings."

"At COP26 we saw a breakthrough moment for the built environment with a dedicated Cities, Regions and Built Environment Day – only the second time that the built environment has ever been on the official COP agenda."

"In this implementation climate summit our industry has an even stronger presence across every thematic day, and there will be over 120 events across the 2-weeks of COP27. This demonstrates that a sustainable transformation of the built environment can accelerate resilience and climate action across every sector."


Stefano Boeri at Therme Art talk in Venice

"I find it very important that it is being held in Egypt"
Stefano Boeri, founder of Stefano Boeri Architetti

"This year's COP does not only start from the consideration of a failure – the failure to meet the Glasgow 2021 targets – but also, if possible, from the worsening expectations related to the war in Ukraine and the ensuing energy and humanitarian crisis. Setting a target in this context is particularly ambitious."

"However, I find it very important that it is being held in Egypt, a country that more than others is suffering the consequences of the climate crisis. I hope it can raise awareness of the need and possible solutions – which do exist – for action on arid and extreme climates. Not least because they are unfortunately becoming an increasingly widespread and less exceptional condition."

"We will bring to COP27 the San Marino Declaration, which I signed with Norman Foster and the UNECE together with the Architects' Associations of several European cities in October. On the one hand, it is an invitation to international governments to act. On the other, it is an awareness on the part of architects and urban planners of a strong social and environmental responsibility in shaping international macro-policies and global goals in places, in physical spaces."

"I hope we will have the opportunity to study and discuss actual projects and not just statements. I think it is really important for us architects to bring concrete examples to Sharm El-Sheik, in addition to statements."


Sindhu Mahadevan of Michael Green Architecture

"We hope that the focus shifts from goal-setting to imminently actionable solutions"
Sindhu Mahadevan, head of research and development at Michael Green Architecture

"We hope that the focus shifts from goal-setting to imminently actionable solutions that address whole-life carbon emission reductions in the built environment, including reductions in embodied emissions, and building capacity to meet construction demand, especially in the Global South, that is resilient, regenerative, and sustainable."

"These solutions will require meaningful commitment across various levels of government to support sustainable reuse of existing construction and decarbonization of new construction. We need to encourage and incentivize innovation in new materials and new construction processes that can fundamentally change how we build."

"Focusing on the decarbonisation of steel and concrete through equitable and transparent means is a priority, but this alone will not meet our critical climate targets. Recognizing that we are not on target to meet our current climate goals, we hope that the attendees are able to transition from 'potential' to focused and effective solutions."


Studio Bark team

"Replace the failed COP process with something like an international citizens assembly"
Collective statement from Studio Bark

"The outcome from the official negotiations of COP26 was bitterly disappointing. But given that the previous 25 such COP conferences have failed to deliver much, this didn't come as a shock. We should be circumspect about placing much hope in this process."

"It is positive to see organisations such as Architecture 2030 having a presence as representatives from the built environment sector. However, COP is an exclusive and closed process which results in a democratic deficit overall. This exclusivity makes it difficult for civil society, including those in the built environment, to influence the process."

"An alternative model, which would encourage more professional diversity, would be to replace the failed COP process with something like an international citizens assembly. This approach could close the gap between policymakers and those who are working on sector-specific challenges including within the built environment."

"The climate crisis doesn't respond to targets or promises. Only action can salvage this. We need to see actionable plans to turn our global crisis around and ensure some kind of habitable future."


Simon Allford elected next president of the RIBA

"We need bold and immediate action"
Simon Allford, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects and executive director of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris

"At COP26 nations adopted the Glasgow Climate Pact, which kept the goal of curbing global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius alive. However, without serious action, the opportunity to achieve this will slip by."

"COP27 therefore, must be about bringing real change. We need bold and immediate action to limit the global temperature rise. Governments have a key role to play in setting ambitious country specific targets. This requires them to embed sustainability within planning systems and building codes, reform public procurement, and build the vital enabling infrastructure."

"I am concerned that we will continue to focus on the risks of the climate emergency, rather than the solutions to addressing it. We must shift towards interdisciplinary education and practice, commit to reporting successes and sharing lessons learned, and constantly challenge current methods and approaches to ensure all practice is aligned with our sustainability goals."

"As a sector, we have the tools, knowledge, and technology to address the climate and biodiversity emergency. The challenge is to deploy them at the speed and scale necessary."


Ahmed Hossan Saafan portrait

"Our presence in the programme is sufficient"
Ahmed Hossam Saafan, founder of AHS CxA

"As a practising architect, I feel that our presence in the programme is sufficient, but could be pushed more towards decision-making, especially with the role of urban planners, urban designers and cityscape architects. This is to illustrate their crucial input required for such pressing matters, as they possess the necessary tools to target problems in a holistic manner."

"I feel that issues such as building practices, infrastructure design, and designing for sustainable social impact are topics that could be more pushed into the spotlight."


Sinus Lynge portrait

"We should stop hoping for top-down achievements and start acting"
Sinus Lynge, partner at EFFEKT

"By now, it should be clear to everyone that we cannot leave the fight against climate change to our politicians alone. I think we should stop hoping for top-down achievements and start acting at all levels of society. Our action will empower the politicians to also start acting. So I hope that COP27 will empower specific climate action across society from politicians to organisations, companies, communities and individuals."

"Architects have marginalised their own relevance by not picking up the massive change agendas of our generation. Architects should help to model, draft, prototype, and visualise the regenerative world of tomorrow to build aspiration and show the opportunities of absolute sustainability and reintegration of human societies within nature."

"When we, as a profession, manage to pick up this wider agenda, I am sure architecture will be a relevant discipline in this big transition and then we will naturally also be included in the debate."


Portrait of White Arkitekter's Alexandra Hagen

"We have to maintain collaboration to be successful"
Alexandra Hagen, CEO of White Arkitekter

"At COP27 we want to see the commitment from all nations to continue to contribute towards the goals, reassured. We have to maintain collaboration to be successful. At COP27, we want to see that geopolitical instability and the threat of global recession does not slow our pace towards a zero-carbon shift."

"We also hope to see progress towards the goals, for example agreeing on the phasing out of coal despite the ongoing energy crisis in Europe."


Dr Matt Kennedy portrait

"My expectations are high"
Matt Kennedy, director for climate and sustainability and global leader for climate strategy services at Arup

"My expectations are high. In terms of outcome, I want a global approach to climate action and sustainable development that is robust and defensible and that preserves ecological stability. This needs to translate into broader societal decarbonisation that is driven by solidarity and fairness and a galvanisation of corporate action."

"COP27 focuses on thematic days such as decarbonisation, water and biodiversity but I am especially interested in the 'solutions' day. Architects, designers and wider built environment professionals can present alternative solutions, rather than prescriptive ones, that can enable wider benefits to become more visible and create long-lasting value."

"It often appears as if the design, construction, and operation of buildings give little consideration to the amount of carbon emitted. Given the carbon footprint of the built environment, our industry needs to influence and shape the future direction of action by bringing renewed focus on aspects like circularity, embodied carbon and the protection of natural habitats, while also delivering added value to the end users."

COP27 will run in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt from 6 to 18 November. See Dezeen Events Guide for an up-to-date list of architecture and design events taking place around the world.

The top image is by Shutterstock.