Is ‘Climate-Positive’ Design Possible?

Advocates say we could design city buildings and neighborhoods that cancel out more carbon than they emit, with the right policies and mindset.

Cities are crucial to fighting climate change. They occupy only 2 percent of global land area but have an enormous climate impact, consuming more than two-thirds of global energy and accounting for at least 70 percent of carbon emissions.

There is a window of less than three years for big cities to deliver on the commitments they agreed to in the Paris climate agreement, according to C40, a coalition of 90 major cities committed to addressing climate change. That goal only became more urgent in October, when the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that the world is on track to heat up at least 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels by 2030.

Just keeping this in check will require unprecedented actions. “To keep the Earth somewhat hospitable for humans, we have to make changes that most people would find unreasonable,” said Eric Corey Freed, an architect and sustainability specialist who works with cities around the world to curb their carbon emissions. “Cutting carbon in half is pretty straightforward,” said Freed. “What I have to do to get to the last 50 percent is harder.”

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