Five years ago, The City College of New York (CCNY) won entry into the coveted US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, a global competition that challenges universities to design, build, and operate a solar-powered home. The Spitzer School of Architecture led efforts to merge both architecture and engineering students and faculty through a two year grueling process of conception & design, fundraising, construction, conferences, outreach efforts- all of course leading to the competition in Washington D.C. in September of 2011. Five years later, I can reflect and recognize the impact the Solar Decathlon made on my career. After graduating from CCNY, I made it my mission to focus on environmental advocacy- sustainability in design and renewable energy.
This year, on Earth Day, April 22, 2016, the United States raised its level of commitment to climate action by signing the COP21 Paris Climate Change Agreement! It was one of 175 countries to officially sign the agreement on Earth Day. 15 countries went one step further and submitted their instruments of ratification, or action plans for climate change. Additionally, some nations have already ratified the agreement in their home countries while at least 10 other countries, including major powers United States and China, have promised to ratify it at some point this year
New York City’s Signature Ceremony comes after international recognition of the Paris Agreement in December of 2015, when nearly 200 countries gathered to establish the framework of international climate cooperation. Architects have a huge burden to dispel many of the adversary effects of climate change. Here in the United States, buildings represent nearly 40% of greenhouse gas emissions!
Seven years ago, when I first embarked upon the Solar Decathlon journey, I vowed that energy efficiency and the environment would become both my social cause and career platform, within the track of Architecture. I have come to realize that our profession needs to take more strides towards tackling climate change through the way we perceive our built environments, not only in the present, but for their life cycle. Consequently, this year, I wanted to participate in the signing of the Paris Agreement, as a solid reminder of the importance of Architects and their role in the natural environment.
Seven years ago, when I first embarked upon the Solar Decathlon journey, I vowed that energy efficiency and the environment would become both my social cause and career platform, within the track of Architecture.
The ceremony certainly delivered its promises for the environment. United States Secretary of State John Kerry was on hand to sign on behalf of the United States. He delivered an impassioned speech, reminding everyone that each coming year has been the hottest than the last and highlighting the ‘urgency’ needed to battle climate crisis. The Signature Ceremony was hosted by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Joining the UN Secretary-General on stage was French President Francois Hollande. France was the first country to sign the agreement at the ceremony. Also present was COP 21 President and France's Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, Ségolène Royal.
Ban Ki-moon also invited several speakers to relay the message of climate change action. Several leaders spoke expressing their country's commitment, speaking for 3-10 minutes. Canada's Prime
Minister Justin Trudeau received a warm applause as he stated, "We are all equal to that challenge [of climate change]." India's Anand Mahindra, representing the business world, advocated a "transition leading to 100% renewable energy in the future." Indigenous rights activist Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim delivered a fresh perspective, highlighting destitution on this international platform. Climate change, she says, is "adding poverty to poverty everyday."
Rounding out the speakers was actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio who made quite the impression. DiCaprio declared climate change is the result of human action, contrary to the small percentage of critics who have chosen to ignore the roots of this impending disaster. He stated fossil fuels should stay in the ground and denounced the role of corporations who mine these resources for profit, to which the audience applauded loudly. DiCaprio has traveled the world widely and described the devastating effects of climate change he was witnessed around the world. DiCaprio urged each delegate to go back to their country and implement change, or else the agreement would mean "nothing."
After the speakers commemorated the cause, each country was called up one by one to sign the agreement. It's hard to explain how moved I was to see the delegates of each country- Heads of States and Governments, Vice Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ministers of Finance, and Ministers of various departments pertaining to energy and the environment- walk up to the stage and officially pen their commitment!
In the coming year, countries can further cement their commitment to the Paris Agreement, by formally submitting their instruments of ratification, or plans for climate action. As DiCaprio stated to the delegates, “We can congratulate each other today, but it will mean absolutely nothing if you return to your countries and don't take action to implement the deal.”