Durban, host for COP17

By Elena Bondareva

22 November 2011 –What can the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol do for our sector?

In just a week (29-30November 2011), this question will be tackled within the context of the International Union of Architects annual two-day conference during COP17/CMP7 in Durban. The aim is to produce the beginnings of a position paper from the built environment sector to COP18 negotiators in Seoul.

Anybody is encouraged to get involved, starting with the online forum

How did this come about?

COP17 is hosted by South Africa, who will then retain its chair until COP18. This puts us in quite a unique position of influence over the coming months as the position paper is consolidated.

Australia, and KNOWCHANGE and myself specifically, got involved through Eric Noir, when the International Union of Architects charged him with organising their annual conference during COP17.

Eric wears countless hats including those of a Director at WSP Green by Design (South Africa) and a founding member of the Board of the Green Building Council of South Africa.

KNOWCHANGE is a platform for change agents to engage with each other around what sustainability makes possible. It aims to enable individuals to maximise their impact in leading transformational change towards truly sustainable cities.

To stretch the ambition for this conference, a  KNOWCHANGE discussion was convened in Melbourne in early June, when Eric was in town. A two-round  world café tacked the following question: “If not ‘another conference’, what initiative would most accelerate the COP 17 agenda?”

KNOWCHANGE took on this project with myself as lead convenor and Nicola Woodward, director of MBMpl Pty Ltd because it seemed to align remarkably with the aims of  KNOWCHANGE.

It leverages what we’ve learned through its journey to deliver, in the form of a COP- directed position paper, a contribution that truly accelerates transformation towards sustainability, without constraining the network to this or  any other projects.

On the host side, the conference is aptly put together by a South African facilitation group, Meshfield.

What is our plan?

Negotiations for COP18 will kick into gear by mid-next year. Delivering a position paper from our fragmented sector by then may still prove too ambitious: it is not for lack of a sense of need that this hasn’t been done to date. However, we may succeed in full or in part, or in so much as making the next attempt easier.

In order to foster a robust debate, we have assembled a panel spanning all ages and corners of the world, and covering a range of disciplines ranging from urban design to food, from financing to biodiversity, and from African culture to art and philosophy. You can see them on the conference’s website

The two-day conference is modelled on Theory U, with the participants challenging their assumptions on the first day and converging on outcomes on the second day.

I will co-facilitate the first day, but it is really the design and facilitation of the second day where my effort has been focused.

To produce the skeleton of the position paper, day 2 will be run as a workshop. It will commence with an input on climate finance, the international funding instruments that are currently being negotiated, and their potential for the built environment sector.

We will then employ a range of interactive dialogue methods, peppered with four-minute inputs, coined through  KNOWCHANGE, pre-prepared by panelists, be they in person, via Skype or pre-recorded for this session.

A few prominent Australians – James Redwood,  (Hansen, Yuncken and Leighton Contractors Joint Venture),  Rob Coombs (InterfaceFLOR AsiaPacific), Adrian McGregor (McGregor Coxall) and Maria Atkinson (Lend Lease), are doing such pre-recordings, with Maria specifically helping us start from the basis already established with COP by UNEP-SBCI and Lend Lease.

Every four-minute piece is briefed to take a position as far out of the audience’s comfort zone as possible, to stretch our imagination and understanding of the issue, and leave it there – letting the subsequent discussions delve into the detail as they see appropriate.

The four minute provocations will provide both input and spice against four key themes of the workshop:

1. Name the elephant in the room: What is missing from the debate? What angle or issue, if recognised, would make people reconsider their position or opinion on what should be done?

2.Stretch our imagination: If we want COP to look to the future, let’s not equip the negotiators with yesterday’s news: whilst it is only fair that our sector is at various and different places on the learning curve, let’s identify the edges. What is the best offer of the built environment to the COP agenda?

3. Place your bet: Not all intervention is made equal. So make an argument for where the best leverage points are for the built environment. If COP were to give $1billion to our sector, where would you direct it to yield the most benefit?

4. Define success: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will do” they say. So if we tried to start with the end in mind, what would success look like for this forum? What is the ultimate outcome we as a sector could want from COP, and COP18 in particular?

What’s next?

After the conference, we will issue our update. We suspect that following the conference, green building councils, institutes of architects and other built environment bodies around the world will engage in filling in the position paper.

Elena Bondareva is one of the founders and facilitators of KNOWCHANGE, and a principal of Thinc Beyond, a business within the Thinc Group. Contact: ebondareva@thincprojects.com