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Landscape architects worldwide unite to accelerate climate action

A global coalition of over 70,000 landscape architects are leading the fight against climate change as the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow enters its second week

From Africa, the Middle East, the Americas, Europe, and Asia Pacific, 77 nations are uniting on a single mission to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss.

Members of the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) shared their Climate Action Commitment at their 57th IFLA World Congress this August. Now, with the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow entering its second week, professional voices are uniting to urge global leaders to legislate for greener development.

“As landscape architects, we can make a tremendous difference to climate change and to climate action through our work,” said IFLA President James Hayter.

A committed, international profession

Landscape architects think globally but act locally, planning, designing, and managing cities, regions, and natural places. Landscape projects protect, restore, and enhance global ecosystems; foster human health and well-being; limit global warming; and draw down atmospheric carbon.

The IFLA Climate Action Commitment outlines six key areas where the landscape architecture profession can take meaningful climate action, each supporting one of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Justice, Solutions, Collaboration, Reducing Emissions, and Leadership.

“Landscape architects are critical in providing solutions for climate change because we stand as a bridge between the natural and built environment,” said IFLA Africa representative Sunday, Julius Abuje.

Despite this, landscape architects worldwide face common challenges, ranging from education and skills shortages to recognition and visibility within the planning and construction industry: meaning they often respond to, rather than lead, change.

“Climate change is happening now,” said Jane Findlay, President of the UK’s Landscape Institute (LI). “To avoid its more damaging effects, we must drastically cut carbon emissions from all sectors.

“Landscape architects around the world design, plan, and manage resilient spaces every day. At the intersection of art and science, we can bring a unique, integrated response to the complex and interconnected issues of climate change and biodiversity loss.

“The LI has worked closely with IFLA to develop this commitment, which represents a landmark moment for collective action in our industry. Over 70,000 professionals worldwide stand ready to build and transform places for climate mitigation and adaptation and restore our depleting natural habitats. Governments and policymakers worldwide need to invest in and utilise these skills.’

Creating a global community

The LI has also begun strengthening ties with individual national landscape architecture institutions. As world leaders gathered for the opening of the COP26 climate conference, the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA) and the LI issued a joint declaration to demonstrate best practice and share knowledge.

The decision follows the UK-Australia free trade agreement announced in June, which attracted heavy criticism for its poor climate credentials. In September, a leaked government email showed that the UK had bowed to Australian pressure to remove reference to the Paris Agreement’s temperature goals from the agreement. The revelation prompted both institutions to discuss how a united landscape profession could do its part to keep 1.5 degrees within reach.

Sitting alongside IFLA’s Climate Action Commitment, the LI-AILA Declaration aims to create a benchmark that the LI can replicate with other organisations across the globe.

Securing a sustainable future

“Tougher targets alone do not reduce emissions,” said Jane Findlay. “We need new policies, ideas, and on-the-ground innovations to deliver real change.”

Alongside Jane, LI Chief Executive Sue Morgan is in attendance this week at the climate conference in Glasgow.

“Whatever the outcome of this hugely important gathering, we must continue to push for greener development on the ground,” said Sue. “How we translate discourse into action will be the key to success, and the landscape profession must play its part.

“Our work as a profession is inherently collaborative. We think holistically, with an understanding of natural and climatic systems, and of the connections between social justice, climate action, and habitat restoration: between people, place, and nature.

“We must play our role and make our voices heard, at COP26 and beyond.”

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