The Landscape sector: paving the road to a low carbon future
16 September 2021
An opinion piece by Jane Findlay, Landscape Institute, President
Context: Climate change, built environment and landscape professionals
Climate change is one of the most pressing and urgent challenges for humanity today. Recently, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the global scientific assessment body for climate evidence and analysis produced Part 1 of the Sixth Assessment Report. The report confidently concludes that climate change is happening now, as record-breaking weather events (such as heat waves, floods, and wildfires) are already occurring across the globe, and without ‘immediate, rapid, and large-scale reductions’ in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded. Climate change will most likely create additional stresses on land, intensifying existing risks to livelihoods, biodiversity and infrastructure etc., and the built environment sector has a crucial role to play in taking climate action as it is currently responsible for nearly 40% of global carbon emissions. To limit warming to 1.5°C and avoid the more damaging climate change impacts, we must reduce carbon emissions from all sectors, including the built environment by 50% – 65% by 2030.
Sustainable actions, commitments and integrated approaches including implementation of green infrastructure, based on the foundation of the natural environment can help in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from all sectors of our economy, including the built environment. Landscape professionals are uniquely placed to bridge the gap between the built and natural environment, taking a holistic approach to planning and design of development, while delivering on climate resilient landscapes. Some examples of landscape professionals bring a holistic approach where not only an ecological balance can be maintained in the built environment but also help in climate adaptation and mitigation are-
- by providing an integrated view on green infrastructure, permeating through every stage of planning and design process, at every scale of development. Implementation of sustainable measures such as: urban green infrastructure designs for natural flood management, energy and carbon efficient strategies (green roofs and water-efficient design), embed nature-based solutions and enhance resilience.
- through good design practice, which at any scale aims to strike a balance between the different elements of functionality, durability, understanding of local natural and cultural elements and visual appeal. This holistic approach is a cost-effective way of providing sustainable solutions, such as visual impact and management of climate risks.
- by applying a holistic approach to project planning, design and management landscape professionals can make key contributions to reducing construction costs, making more efficient use of land and using sustainable materials in construction practices, thereby ensuring high standards of delivery against climate and economic objectives.
The Landscape Institute’s (LI) initiatives demonstrate from a practitioner’s standpoint, how landscape professionals can be instrumental in responding to the impacts of climate change and meet UK’s climate obligations. The LI was the first professional body in the UK built environment sector to declare both a climate and biodiversity emergency in 2019 and launched an action plan in 2020 in response to these crises. The LI’s response to the climate and nature crisis has been guided by four strategic objectives:
- equipping professionals to provide tangible nature-based solutions as practitioners,
- regulating and monitoring the sector to encourage greater sustainability,
- advocating climate solutions to decision makers within governments and industry, and
- setting an example for the sector by embedding sustainability into our own operations.
Global climate commitments and transformative change
The 2015 Paris Agreement provided a landmark global collaborative framework for limiting global temperature rise to ‘well below’ 2°C above pre-industrial levels. In order to meet this goal, GHG emissions should have peaked by 2020 and must fall to zero by 2050. However, the Nationally determined contribution report indicates that the global climate commitments are not on track to meet the goals made within the Paris agreement and ‘deep emission reductions’ are needed in the next decade. COP26 in November, Glasgow is therefore a defining moment, as it will determine the scale of commitment and transformative action that will be required to limit global warming in the next decade. As COP26 host, the UK has an additional responsibility to demonstrate globally, what further climate action can be taken to reduce emissions.
Landscape sector’s path to a low carbon future
To limit global warming to 1.5 °C, transformative change is required within the energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems. Following the publication of the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C and the UK Government’s commitments to net zero emission targets, the Landscape Institute has further strengthened its commitment to deliver transformative climate and nature-based solutions within the landscape sector. The LI’s 2020 Greener Recovery report addresses questions on how the landscape sector can deliver a sustainable recovery from the pandemic. An unintended, yet welcome outcome of the pandemic lockdowns was an improvement in local and global environmental conditions. The reduction in social, economic and industrial activity led to improved air quality in urban spaces, cleaner rivers, reduced noise pollution and improved conditions for local wildlife. Through the following actions the LI calls for the UK Government to maintain these significant gains –
- take a natural capital approach to new infrastructure and housing investment.
- invest in maintenance and renewal of existing places
- set fairer standards for green space
- invest in natural solutions to climate change
- invest in green skills, digital and data
The LI’s 2021 Landscape for 2030 report further demonstrates how landscape professionals can respond to the climate crises. The report showcases examples of best practice, where landscape professionals provide an integrated, holistic approach to climate action, incorporating both mitigation and adaptation measures. Some examples of how landscape professionals can play a central role in providing integrated mitigation and adaption solutions on range of different scales are:
- reducing embodied carbon of outdoor spaces.
- implementing energy saving measures such as: living roofs and tree planting, reducing food miles by integrating and maximising local food production in the landscape
- enabling non-vehicular transport by designing for low-carbon travel routes
- using sustainable urban drainage systems to adapt to increasing flooding and coastal erosion
- increase urban heat resilience by installing urban green infrastructure to improve thermal performance of buildings and reduce the urban heat island effect