The consequences of Covid-19 should motivate, not distract us, from designing a decarbonised future

11th May 2020

Over the past weeks I’ve read countless articles celebrating some of the effects on the environment of the coronavirus pandemic: clean canals in Venice, less light pollution in the night sky, and cleaner air quality. Since lockdown, the world has experienced a noticeable reduction in carbon emissions, giving us a glimpse of what a cleaner and healthier planet might look like. However, we can’t let these ‘silver linings’ distract us from the reality of the situation—not only did these achievements come at catastrophic human cost, they are fleeting, at best.

This temporary downturn in emissions is not a new phenomenon; in fact, we’ve seen it relatively recently: in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis carbon emissions fell, but this was short-lived, and carbon levels rebounded dramatically during recovery. In our own industry, we saw environmentally progressive codes and policies, such as the Code for Sustainable Home, lose traction, eventually being scrapped in order to lessen housing regulations.

Let’s be clear: this pandemic is not how we will decarbonise the economy. We need to be aware of the challenge ahead: to recover economically without sacrificing the climate, endeavouring to decarbonise in a way that is truly sustainable—environmentally, socially and economically. As designers of the built environment, we need to be aware of the implications for our industry, and not lose sight of our commitments to sustainability in such a turbulent time.

What we’re experiencing indicates that a more significant recalibration of values is on our horizon. We are witnessing a new-found openness in an industry that is often criticised as being too slow or unwilling to adapt. The cracks that are breaking through the status quo could pave the way for even bigger, more impactful changes, but only if the resulting recalibration of values is aligned with climate action.

Demanding a healthy and resilient future for people and planet alike has never had a more receptive audience and the last year has seen a sweeping global surge in both the awareness and impetus to act on climate change. Let’s use this moment, not only to envision a sustainable future, but to make it happen.

We have already seen what we can accomplish when architects mobilise—from Architects Declare, to opposing the proposed ban on CLT, to using their resources to help fight Covid-19. We can harness this moment, rather than resting on the laurels of unearned, temporary climate respite, to move beyond ‘back to normal’ and realise the new opportunities made possible in times of crisis. The climate crisis is more urgent than ever. Even in the face of multiple crises, we must act now to harness society’s bourgeoning recalibration of social and environmental values to fight for climate action.

Read the full article here.

Read more about ID:SR and Sheppard Robson's thinking on reoccupation at out Covid-19 Restart Portal.

Alison O’Reilly

Head of Sustainability