Historic Partnership Promises to Tackle Rapid Urbanisation and Climate Change in the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth Association of Architects (CAA), including the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), have formed a series of partnerships with commonwealth countries pledging to aid with the challenges of rapid urbanisation and environmental degradation 

This landmark pledge was signed on 5 June 2023 at the UN Habitat assembly in Nairobi. Signatories include trade organisations from Kenya, Australia, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Canada, the UK, Trinidad and Tobago and Uganda. 

The RIBA has played a notable role in proceedings and is among those who have signed the pledge. Dr Valerie Vaughan-Dick, chief executive of RIBA, said: “This partnership, led by the CAA, is an excellent example of how we, and our counterparts across the world, can use our knowledge, expertise, and influence to make a material difference.” 

This 3-Part Collaboration Plans to:  

  •  Focus on building the capacity of urban stakeholders, particularly in commonwealth countries, that are facing the most urgent challenges to cope with rapid urbanisation and climate change.  
  •  Focus on addressing urban vulnerabilities and positively impacting resource-poor communities in the least developing, low-and middle-income countries. 
  •  Promote the IFC’s ‘Designing for Greater Efficiency’ (DfGE) course among the CAA’s extensive network of teaching faculty, students and built environment professionals. 

The Challenge this Partnership Tackles

Rapid urbanisation is a growing threat in the face of the worsening climate crisis. Over 65% of the world’s population is predicted to live in cities by 2050. The UN estimates that nearly 50% of projected global population growth will be in commonwealth countries, many of which are the most at risk of climate-related issues on the Climate Vulnerability Index. 

Rapid urbanisation raises concerns over the ‘capacity gaps’ of local and national governments in their ability to cope with rising demand for land, housing, infrastructure and basic urban services. These gaps would lead to unplanned and unregulated urban infrastructure expansion that could prove disastrous for local communities.

Such pressures will likely create socioeconomic instability without effective management and sufficient resources. The climate crisis exacerbates these issues as ecosystem instability will continue to create losses in Ecosystem Services that many local populations rely on for their well-being and livelihood. This building crisis is placing pressure from all angles on developing nations, which are some of the most socioeconomically vulnerable. 

Climate Inequity | Samson et al. 2011

Climate inequity has long raised questions over the responsibility of more developed nations to aid nations most in need of it. Pledges such as this promise to fulfil these responsibilities by facilitating the sustainable development of more vulnerable nations without hindering their progress.   

The collaboration aims to provide the much-needed expertise and management from architects and planners to help cope with the growing pressures of rapid urbanisation.  

Uganda has around 250 architects and 100 planners active in the country. This is for a population of 48 million with an urbanisation rate of 6%. For comparison, the UK has 41500 architects and 22000 planners for a population of 67 million, urbanising at a rate of 1%. 

 The Pact Plans to Take a Series of Measures to Assure the Resilience of these Nations, Including: 

  • Strengthening links between policy, education and sustainable urbanisation practices. 
  • Improving engagement and communication between urban stakeholders at local, regional and national levels. 
  • Participating in research agendas on urban law, human rights and climate justice. 
  • Sharing skills and knowledge on urban planning and climate-focused reform, including passing on tools and data sources such as urban lex across the commonwealth. 

These measures align with resolutions made by the UN habitat assembly in 2019 relating to their urban agenda for sustainable development. 

CAA President Peter Oborn said: “Only by working together in this way will we be able to confront the challenges we face and the Commonwealth, with its shared values, provides the perfect platform from which to do so.” 

Hopefully, the initiative is the start of many future collaborations that aim to deal with the issues related to the climate crisis and rapid urbanisation.  

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