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Torey Carter-Conneen, ASLA CEO presenting at COP28

By Torey Carter-Conneen, ASLA CEO

Although the new year is well underway, much of our work ahead in 2024 to elevate the profession and deepen our impact on the climate and biodiversity crises was very present in one of my last trips of 2023, where I joined other ASLA leaders at COP28 in Dubai. In our second year with official observer status, this was ASLA’s most robust presence to date. On location, I was joined by Pamela Conrad, ASLA, LEED AP, Founder, Climate Positive Design and Kotchakorn Voraakhom, International ASLA, Founder, Landprocess and delegate of the Government of Thailand.

While nature-based solutions are a well-recognized strategy for drawing down carbon and increasing biodiversity among the 84,000 COP28 attendees, the role landscape architects are playing was perhaps eye-opening for many.

COP attendeesLandscape architect delegates at COP28 in Dubai. From left to right: Pamela Conrad, ASLA; Dr. Siddharth Narayan, East Carolina University; Lisa Richmond, Architecture 2030; Kotchakorn Voraakhom, International ASLA; Torey Carter-Conneen, ASLA CEO

The final COP28 agreement includes the importance of nature-based solutions as a critical piece to carbon drawdown. The agreement recognized the "the vital importance of protecting, conserving, restoring and sustainably using nature and ecosystems for effective and sustainable climate action."

It called for “halting and reversing deforestation and forest degradation by 2030,” using more landscapes as carbon sinks, and increasing protection of biodiversity. Each member of the ASLA delegation stressed the importance of trees to each group we spoke and made the connection between deforestation, which accounts for 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and why protecting them is part of the climate solution set.

We led discussions on policy and finance and dove into carbon offset markets, stressing the need for more transparency and accountability and discussed how offsets affect forestry. A clear take away from my time there was the need for all of us in the design professions (landscape architects, civil engineers, planners and architects) to collaborate together. And to that end, we partnered with Architecture 2030 to host an event at COP28. We are all wrestling with questions on funding and policy changes.

And while it’s second nature for many of us to understand the multitude of co-benefits nature-based solutions provide for communities, I found it was important to continue to emphasize the economic benefits of nature-based solutions as well as the biodiversity and climate impacts. It’s a mistake to allow decision-makers to slip into default thinking that implementing nature-based solutions is simply a moral decision or a nice thing to do (which is also true), but it’s smart business. Everywhere we go we should remind decision-makers that according to the Nature-based Infrastructure Global Resource Centre, on average nature-based infrastructure is 42% cheaper and creates 36% more value than relying only on grey infrastructure if avoided costs and co-benefits are taken into account.

Our forthcoming research on Landscape Architecture Solutions for Extreme Heat with Dr. Daniella Hirschfeld, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, Utah State University and Landscape Architecture Solutions to Biodiversity Loss with Dr. Sohyun Park, ASLA, PhD, SITES AP, Assistant Professor, Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, University of Connecticut will continue to highlight the carbon drawdown and economic benefits of restoring the natural environment.

While we participated in over 40 events here is a short list of highlights:

  • Finance, Data, and Capacity Building: Which Accelerator Frameworks to Build Water-Smart Cities?
  • Enhancing Urban Water Resilience through Nature-based Solutions in Public Places
  • Driving Higher Education for Global Action
  • Nature-Base Solutions and Climate Finance Mechanisms
  • Scaling Up Nature-Based Solutions in Urban Environments
  • Nature-based Solutions and the Built Environment: Designing for Resilience, Drawdown and Biodiversity
  • Investing in Nature
  • Accelerating Finance for Nature-based Solutions: Unlocking Opportunities for Sustainable Development
  • Innovative Governance for Flood and Drought Risk Management
  • Water as Leverage for Worldwide Urban Resilience: Through Multilevel Climate Action

If you’d like to dive deeper into the panels you can read more in this DIRT article.

After one of our panel presentations, I was approached by a staff person at the U.N. who said he was so inspired by our discussion that he wished he could go back to school and become a landscape architect. We spoke about the U.N.’s strategy to help developing countries include nature as part of their adaptation and disaster planning.

I also spoke with delegates from Sierra Leone who told me about increasingly severe storms that are devastating the infrastructure of their communities. Later this month, I’ll be talking with the mayor of one such community about ways they can engage landscape architects to help create solutions for more resilient community planning.

These are the same issues we face here in the U.S.  local communities need our help to be the bridge between buildings and nature.

While our delegation was working to elevate our profession as part of the climate solution, we were also there to gather information about the other carbon capture strategies governments around the world that are being explored and implemented. For example, I spoke to a representative from Climeworks, which is focused on direct air capture technology.

It’s important that as a profession we take an interest in understanding all of the options that project leaders and decision-makers have to capture carbon and how nature-based solutions and tech solutions can work together. We can avoid getting caught up in the “which strategy is better” debate, because realistically it’s going to take a combination. Here’s a short explainer on carbon capture technology. Please feel free to send me a note and share how you stay current on this what are you reading or watching?

It’s our 125th anniversary year, and I’m excited to get out on the road and celebrate with all of you.

ASLA virtual delegates joining online include:

  • SuLin Kotowicz, FASLA, ASLA President
  • Diane Jones Allen, FASLA, Director, Program in Landscape Architecture, University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), Principal Landscape Architect, DesignJones, LLC, and Member, ASLA Climate Action Plan Task Force
  • Scott Bishop, ASLA, Founding Principal, Bishop Land Design; Member, ASLA Climate Action Plan Advisory Group; and Past Chair, ASLA Biodiversity and Climate Action Committee
  • Aida Curtis, FASLA, Founding Principal, Curtis + Rogers Design Studio; and Co-Chair ASLA Biodiversity and Climate Action Committee Subcommittee on Climate Leadership and Communications
  • Sarah Fitzgerald, ASLA, Associate, SWA, and Member, ASLA Climate Action Plan Task Force
  • Mia Lehrer, FASLA, Founder, Studio-MLA, and Member, ASLA Climate Action Plan Advisory Group
  • April Phillips, FASLA, Founder, April Phillips Design Works, and Chair, ASLA National Biodiversity and Climate Action Committee
  • Kongjian Yu, FASLA, Founder, Turenscape, and Professor and Dean, College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Peking University, and winner of the 2023 Cornelia Hahn Oberlander International Landscape Architecture Prize.

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