Further down the IPCC CO2 hole? Or what else can we do now?

Jason King of landscape+urbanism has posted another insightful and topical examination of the implication of the latest IPCC report on global warming and particularly what is means as a landscape architect to be able to do something ..walk the talk or just understand it at least – the extract I have chosen her is relevant to my previous post of becoming CO2+ – bu toy can read the fullest on Jason’s blog here

The background is:

The connection to the science is vital to and expanded knowledge of climate change, as I mentioned in the post on the Foundations of Climate Change Inquiry. One of those foundations mentioned is the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is the body of the United Nations focusing on the global science and impacts related to climate change. Their October 2018 IPCC Special Report focuses on “the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global green house gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.”

Likely some of us like to skip all the doom and science stuff and get to what we can do – don’t forget to read Jasons intro though….

The wide array of options for mitigation are collectively referred to as “system transformations”, as I mentioned, interesting as they include a number of landscape-specific ideas. And, based on the dire predictions of our available remaining carbon budget, reductions alone will not suffice to get us to levels that can keep warming at 1.5°C or even 2°C, especially without overshoot. Per section C.2 we require:

“…rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems. These system transitions are unprecedented in terms of scale, but not necessarily in terms of speed, and imply deep emissions reductions in all sectors, a wide portfolio of mitigation options and a significant upscaling of investments in those options.”

As I mentioned, efficiency is one aspect, and a combination of new and existing technologies are needed, including “electrification, hydrogen, sustainable bio-based feedstocks, product substitution, and carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS)”, to name but a few. I think of the book Drawdown as a good snapshot of many of these strategies and their potential. However, as mentioned, while these are technically proven at a number of scales, large-scale deployment of these is constrained, and often has trade-offs with other strategies.

We also need changes in systems, for instance section C.2.4 mentions urban and infrastructure system transitions, which imply “changes in land and urban planning practices, as well as deeper emissions reductions in transport and buildings…” to get us to these targets. Many of these are not new, but do come with some baggage: “Economic, institutional and socio-cultural barriers may inhibit these urban and infrastructure system transitions, depending on national, regional and local circumstances, capabilities and the availability of capital.”

The final section does present some interesting options, specific to CO2removal, which are collectively referred to as CDR for “carbon dioxide removal” which range in potential. These include:

bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) 
  • afforestation and reforestation
  • land restoration and soil carbon sequestration
  • bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) 
  • direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS)
  • enhanced weathering and ocean alkanlinization

Two mentioned previously have some huge potential. For instance BECCS can capture up to 5 gigatons of CO2 per year, and afforestation an additional 3.6 gigatons of CO2 per year. As we find out more about the potential we can employ these strategies at larger scales, however there are trade-offs, such as the competition with other land use (for instance agriculture for food production) and the need to protect valuable ecosystem resources. One strategies mentioned is to use multiple, small installations, versus massive projects, to spread out impacts. 

Related specifically to landscape systems, the connection to ecosystem services is highlighted with the multi-functional benefits, as mentioned in section C.3.5. The use of Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) measures for CDR, have a number of co-benefits, such as restoration of natural ecosystems providing additional soil carbon sequestration, increased biodiversity, soil quality, and food security, if managed sustainably.

Climate Positive Design – Becoming CO2+

I am on admission to understand and act on becoming “carbon positive” – I believe it is the way landscape architects can become truly relevant and effective.

A series of recent posts by Landscape+Urbanism on understanding climate change for landscape architects has been catalytic for m intoning about the role of landscape architecture, cities and our lives here on this planet. December post from the Dirt by Andrew Wright reporting on  ASLA 2018 Annual Meeting in Philadelphia and the climate positive design talk by  Pamela Conrad, ASLA, a senior associate at CMG Landscape Architecture   

“The next few years are probably the most important in our history,” said Conrad “We believe our profession can be part of the solution, and that it’s time to work together.”

Pamela Conrad has developed a calculator that predicts the emissions and carbon sequestration potential

“A few years back, I assumed I could go online and download a tool that would tell me exactly what I wanted to know. But frankly, those tools really only exist for architects right now. Because we have the ability to sequester carbon, perhaps we need our own tools to measure these impacts.”

Landscape Carbon Calculator / Pamela Conrad, CMG Landscape Architecture

Conrad’s tool, which is still in beta testing and has not yet been publicly released, measures sources of embodied emissions in landscape materials against the sequestration potential of vegetation on a site to calculate both the carbon footprint of a project and the amount of time it will take for sequestration to completely offset emissions. Past that point, the project will  sequester additional atmospheric carbon dioxide, a condition Conrad calls being “climate positive.”

Climate Positive Design / Pamela Conrad, CMG Landscape Architecture

Using the calculator, Conrad has been able to estimate the carbon footprints of her recently completed projects and, by tweaking the input parameters, model strategies that could have reduced their climate impacts.

“We can plant more trees and woody shrubs; we can minimize paving, especially concrete; we can minimize lawn areas; we can use local or natural recycled materials.” With these strategies, Conrad estimates that she could have cut the time it will take for her projects to become carbon neutral in half.

“The design of those projects didn’t change at all, or the quality for that matter. But what a difference it could have made if we just had the resources to inform our design decisions.”

Carbon Positive Design / CMG Landscape Architecture

Conrad argued that, through climate sensitive design, landscape architects could be responsible for the sequestration of as much as 0.24 gigatons of carbon over the next thirty years, enough to place landscape architecture in the list of 80 solutions to climate change studied in Paul Hawken’s Drawdown project.

And “if we were to include other work we do, like incorporating green roofs into projects or making cities more walkable and bikeable, that would put landscape architecture within the top 40 solutions.”

Conrad plans to release the calculator to the public next year and hopes that it will be used to set measurable goals for designing climate-friendly projects and create opportunities for accountability.

“How are we going to keep tabs on ourselves to make sure that we’re actually doing these things?” she asked her fellow panelists. “What would it take for us to have a 2030 challenge specific to landscape architecture?”

The Foundations of Climate Change Inquiry

Jason King of Landscape+ Urbanism has written a great review and references for understanding the climate change fundamentals and I will be diving into this myself, although written for North American audience, he does reference international resources as well, for an African audience, this local book by Anton Cartwright and team from UCT’s African Centre for Cities is worth looking at Climate Change at the City Scale: Impacts, Mitigation and Adaptation in Cape Town   

In an attempt to be intentional and informed in tying landscape architecture to climate change and asking some of the fundamental questions I posed in my introductory post, I starting to develop a plan and amass a wide range of resources. Even now, I’ve barely scratched the surface, although this initial study has been illuminating, perhaps just in posing more questions. 

First, I wanted to focus on climate change mechanisms and impacts, of which there is not shortage of resources, covered in a combination of technical reports, books and articles. Second, I wanted to tap into many of the strategies from design and planning world, of which there is a steadily growing collection of articles and books, to address this in the context of solutions based in landscape architecture, architecture, and urban planning. Lastly, is the rich resource of academic journals and papers that connect the issues and approaches with a layer of evidence to further inform potential solutions. In this initial post I will focus on the first, and relate some of the initial experiences.

Climate Change Reports

One impetus for my recent obsession was the release (to much fanfare) over the Thanksgiving weekend of Volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4). This report gives a detailed account of the “Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States.” Authored by an army of experts, and published by the U.S. Global Change Research Program this is the de facto standard for US Climate Science and has helped transform and amplify discussions.

Climate impact lingo

Because the IPCC’s work is so central to global scientific understand, it is helpful to get acquainted with the particular communications style of the IPCC… [it] forms a common language across fields and thus encourages interdisciplinary understanding.”Hamin-Infield, Abunnaser, & Ryan (eds), 2019 p.10

Read more…