The role of landscape architecture in the mitigation of climate change is being highlighted as the world faces a climate crisis.

There has never been a more important time to focus on the integral role landscape architects can play in adapting the built environment to prepare for the future.

Last week the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) policymakers released a troubling report on the state of the climate – one which highlights the negative impact that humans are having on the earth.

“We need actions that will reduce global emissions, expedite the shift to clean energy, and enhance the resilience of our communities,” said Andrew Steer, President of the World Resources Institute.

Claiming that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” the report says temperatures are rapidly increasing and predictions have been made that the Earth’s surface temperature could rise by four degrees Celsius over the next century.

The report claims that human influence has been the dominant cause of global warming since the mid 1900s. Human activity is said to have contributed to changes in climate extremes, changes in the global water cycle, mean sea level rise, warming of the ocean and atmosphere and a reduction in snow and ice.

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Climate change produces more severe weather patterns

Climate change is primarily caused by the increasing concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere. The IPCC’s 2007 report indicated an increase in GHG emissions of 70 per cent between 1970 and 2004.

Human behavior causes these higher emissions through activities such as burning fossil fuels for energy production. The transportation sector worldwide is responsible for 30 per cent of global emissions, while building construction and energy use accounts for another 30 per cent.

“It’s not too late to change course, but we need an urgent response based on the mounting evidence,” said Steer. “We need to find pathways to low-carbon economic growth. We know the costs of action on climate change are modest and are dwarfed by the costs of inaction.”

Climate change mitigation must come from conscious human effort as humans are responsible as a species for the current state of the environment. Any human intervention designed to reduce the amount of GHG emissions is considered climate change mitigation.

Landscape architects are integral in climate change mitigation and work with regional and national planning departments to implement strategies and mitigation designs.

It is also imperative that landscape architects work in conjunction with architects of other stripes to further the energy efficiency of built environments by implementing strategic treed areas and vegetation such as green roofs or landscaping.

factory pollution

Alarming levels of greenhouse gasses in the environment cause climate change

Very broadly, landscape architects are responsible for the design of human environments that sustain life, including water, soil, vegetation and biodiversity. While integrating thoughtful design strategies, landscape architects can also influence the use and misuse of resources.

Contributing to the protection of existing ecosystems, landscape architects carry the role of enhancing urban and coastal ecosystems where the population resides, as well as that of regenerating damaged ecosystems.

Working with urban park departments and environmental conservation organisations, landscape architects also aim to protect national parks, urban forests and rural areas that are home to trees that serve as carbon sinks.

The Landscape Institute says a far greater appreciation is needed for the holistic approach that landscape architecture represents and its fundamental importance in securing a sustainable future.

Landscape architects must provide leadership in this global effort and be widely recognised as critical in the fight against climate change. They must be given wide-ranging opportunities to put practical designs into place now and ongoing into the future.

The Australian Institute of Landscape Architects developed The Australian Landscape Principles in response to human activity being the primary cause that threatens our ability to maintain life on Earth.

The principles are based on respect for the value of the landscape when developing design, planning and management strategies for climate change mitigation in the natural and built environments.

The purpose of the Australian Landscape Principles is to direct future landscape interventions towards holistic outcomes and sustainability, using the following principles:

1. Value Our Landscape

2. Protect > Enhance > Regenerate

3. Design With Respect

4. Design For The Future

5. Embrace Responsive Design

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Melting of Polar Ice Caps

If left unchecked, experts say the Earth’s rising temperatures will have devastating effects. The IPCC report says by the year 2100, sea levels could rise by 19 to 23 inches.

The continuation of GHG emissions will cause further warming and will change nearly all components of the climate system in a detrimental way.

Devastating effects from a lack of action could include increased drought and wildfires, wars over resources, decreasing amounts of potable water, species extinction and an increase in the spread of diseases.

The United Nations recommends a target GHG emissions reduction of 50 to 85 percent by 2050. A wide range of mitigation strategies involving landscape architecture can help limit temperature rise if employed at a mass scale.

Given that the effects of climate change are already being felt, landscape architecture mitigation strategies are being implemented all around the world. Now is the time for an increase in their application for a sustainable future.

Christine Milne, Australian Greens leader said the report confirms the fact that deep emission cuts were needed and that the government must take “urgent and serious measures immediately.”