The Committee on Climate Change has advised the UK to set a net zero emissions target by 2050 – but the target won’t be credible unless there is a significant ramp up in policies to support it, writes Aaron Burton

    Climate-resilient garden in a London Housing estate, from the LIFE+ climate proofing social housing project. (Winner / Highly Commended: Landscape Institute Awards 2016) Image: Lucy Millson-Watkins

    Climate change is a huge topic that, in recent weeks, has risen near to the top of the public and political agenda. The landscape sector has a significant role to play in reducing carbon emissions and boosting resilience to the effects of climate change, many of which we are already experiencing.

    On 2 May, the Committee on Climate Change advised that the UK should set a net zero emissions target by 2050. But this target won’t be credible unless there is a significant ramp up in policies to support it.

    ‘Using known technologies, the UK can end our contribution to global warming by reducing emissions to Net Zero by 2050.’ Infographic from the Committee on Climate Change

    In February 2019, an earlier Committee on Climate Change report concluded that ‘efforts to adapt the UK’s housing stock to the impacts of the changing climate … are also lagging far behind what is needed’. In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that we have only a dozen years to keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C. Even 0.5°C beyond this threshold will significantly worsen the risk of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

    In the last week, the UK Parliament has declared a climate emergency, along with the Welsh Government and the Scottish Government. Many other organisations have already done the same, including 508 local councils covering 43 million citizens in Australia, Canada, the USA, the UK and Switzerland. The UK Labour party declared a climate emergency in March 2018 and the UK Government responded that they are addressing this through their 25 Year Environment Plan. In April 2019, inspired by the activities of groups such as Extinction Rebellion and School Strike for Climate, the first wave of 193 declarers from the UK arts, culture and creative sectors launched the ‘Culture Declares Emergency’ movement.

    What has the LI done to date?

    The Landscape Institute (LI) and its members are already responding to the issue of climate change through a range of measures. The LI’s 2018 Corporate strategy set out our ambition to ‘work towards sustainable and resilient landscape-led approaches through greater linkage to global sustainability initiatives (including the UN Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs) demonstrated by the LI (particularly SDG 13 on climate change)‘.

    Dan Cook, Chief Executive of the Landscape Institute, said:

    ‘We are at the forefront of professional bodies when it comes to including climate change and SDGs in our corporate strategy. However, we recognise that there are many areas where the LI and our members can do more to address the challenges of climate change. We are keen for our members and partners to suggest further ideas of “direct action” that we could take, both in our role as a professional body and also by providing support for members who are delivering climate resilience solutions through their work.

    ‘Our profession has a unique understanding of the connections between people, place and nature, and can make a major contribution in this area.’

    Policy and influencing

    Our new LI Policy and Influencing Strategy will launch in 2019, and includes as a key theme the creation of healthy and climate-resilient places. The LI also produced a position statement, Landscape architecture and the challenge of climate change, in 2008, and has been delivering its recommendations with our members and through our policy work. In 2018 we released a Technical Information Note (TIN), Carbon in Landscapes, which sets out how landscape interventions can address several pressing climate challenges. And we fed into and endorsed TCPA’s 2018 document Rising to the Climate Crisis – A Guide for Local Authorities on Planning for Climate Change.

    Many of our members work on climate change issues every day, and we showcase a wide range of case studies and LI Award winners on the LI website. And in our journal, we regularly promote cutting-edge approaches to climate resilience being delivered in the UK and internationally.

    What more can we do?

    The LI acknowledges the challenges of climate change and is addressing these through sustainability actions internally, working with our practices and members and as a core strand of our forthcoming policy strategy. Where our members individually declare a ‘climate emergency’, this will support our wider work.

    Over the coming months we will be communicating with our members to outline what more we can do to deliver climate action, and undertaking a survey to understand how our members are already contributing through their practice. We will discuss this issue at our LI90 Festival of Ideas at London’s Olympic Park on 8 June 2019, and then engage our leading members on Board and Council to explore what more our profession and the Institute can do.

    The landscape profession has long been at the forefront of climate action by designing and promoting the creation of adaptive and resilient places. We will continue to work to educate and enable our members to address climate change issues, develop evidence and guidance on actions they can take, and influence national and local policies to reduce the impact of climate change on society and the environment.

    Aaron Burton FRSA C.WEM CEnv CSci is the LI’s Head of Policy and Influencing.


    1. Well done Landscape Institute for working towards resolving the worrying issue of climate change. The UK seems to be taking the issue seriously and hopefully, we can reach net zero emissions by 2050.

    2. For years we have been designing landscapes that have performed important functions for people and for nature, but we haven’t always been seen as core to the ‘unstoppable’ progress of development. Meanwhile scientific evidence on the benefits that landscapes provide, have transformed the arguments as to why they are essential. Now, we have fancy new terminology, such as ‘green infrastructure’ and use terms such as ‘climate change mitigation or adaptation’. Radical and welcome policy support is now in place (in my own country, Wales), combined with ever increasing grass-roots support from ordinary people, including young people. There are even signs that shrewd business decision-making is turning towards adapt or die. But in all this, there still seem to be a few cogs missing in the great machine, being the ones associated with getting better things happening, sustainably managed, on the ground. Maybe the lag is inevitable and catch-up is just a matter of time. But so is the inevitability of the catch up from the lag of climate change and biodiversity loss to our own wellbeing.


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