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Sarah Ichioka The Emergency Is Real Lets Push The ChangeKuala Lumpur: Sarah Ichioka was one of the speakers at the International Construction Transformation Conference (ICTC) held in conjunction with ICW 2019 which concluded on Thursday.


Her talk was on ‘Green By Design: We Can’t Build Another Planet’, a session which she shared with another speaker, Professor Patrick Bellow, and moderated by Serina Hijjas.


Ichioka has a diverse portfolio in leadership, planning and curatorial roles in prominent institutions such as LSE cities programme, Tate Modern and New York City’s Department of Housing. She has been honored as Global Public Design Interest 100 by the Royal Institute of British Architects and she also leads Desire Lines, a strategic consultancy for environmental, cultural and social impact organisations and initiatives. She is currently based in Singapore.


“The emergency is real. An unprecedented emergency,” Ichioka began the serious issue at hand with easy candour before taking the audience on an effortless “how did we get here” ride.


From the onset of her presentation Ichioka quoted from the activist group Extinction Rebellion whose very belief is “to survive, it’s going to take everything that we’ve got”.


“Earth is getting hotter and scientists agree that this is caused by human activity. Global warming is causing our climate to change and it’s happening now. Effects include draughts, flooding, hurricanes as well as rising sea levels. In 1950 our annual global emissions were around six gigatonnes. Now they are around 37 gigatonnes.


“If we continue to emit CO2 at current rates for the next two decades it’s unlikely that we will be able to limit the increase in the average global temperature. A rise of three degrees Celsius would take us to a temperature we have not seen in this earth for around three million years,” she said.


Stressing on the urgency of the subject matter further, Ichioka quoted from the World Economic Forum 2018 Global Risk Report which announced that extreme weather events represent the greatest risk to the future development of humanity.


She also brought up the shortcomings of the Paris Agreement (UN Convention on Climate Change) before laying out the full impact of man’s doing on the environment - from the lowering Ph levels in our oceans to the thousands of species we have driven to extinction.


“How does this relentless march of statistics make you feel?” Ichioka asked, then drawing the audience’s attention to the recent international youth protests on global climate degradation.


Staying true to her vocation as a strategic consultant for environmental initiatives, Ichioka went against the norms of conferences “where speakers are meant to keep wearing their professional hats, to remain emotionless, studiously neutral, essentially to leave our full humanity at home”.


“The challenges we are here to discuss today will impact all of us and our children directly. The younger generation, whose lives will be most affected, are calling upon us - all of us with positions of authority and impact to take the necessary actions to protect them.”


Ichioka spoke with particular woe on the subject of sustainability, which is supposed to be “incorporated in everything that we do” but remains far from it.


“Sustainability is simply an inadequate approach to compound crisis we humans have inflicted upon ourselves. Why has sustainability proved itself inconsistent if in simple terms it means doing less bad?” she asked, referring to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report number 15 which declared “Our sustainable efforts have been insufficient and are proving increasingly so if we are to avoid the worst consequences of the destructive forces that we have already unleashed”.


Two days after the publication of that report, the Stirling Prize (highest British honour for recognition in architecture) was awarded to Foster + Partners Bloomberg HQ. The 10-year project was a marriage between Bloomberg and Norman Foster, the UK’s wealthiest architect.


The Royal Institute of British Architects who administer the Stirling Prize called it “the most sustainable office building in the world” but the decision has many detractors particularly when comparing it to the previous year’s winner dRMM’s Hastings Pier, seen by many as an exemplification of civic architecture.


dRMM made extensive use of timber salvaged from a fire that burned down the previous pier and held close consultations with the public and the charity funding it, making it a truly community project.


Ichioka was clearly among the aggrieved parties. “This one billion scheme, ‘the most sustainable office building in the world’ [referring to the Foster Bloomberg HQ] might very well be incompatible with our need to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”


According to IPCC, limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but would require unprecedented changes. Aside from cutting down on harm the IPCC also says adapting to 1.5 would be easier and less expensive.


“Unprecedented changes” mean two things: we need to cut down on emissions and we need to do it very quickly.


Giving due respect to the 4R strategy of sustainable development (reduction, reuse, recycle, recovery) Ichioka boldly added her own 4Rs - Rebel (let us raise our voices together), Root (let us ground our solutions to our current crisis in the rich history and culture that we inhabit), Relate (let us decipher and communicate the underlying systems that perpetuate this global crisis) and Regenerate (let us draw inspiration from the natural world to craft materials and manufacturing cycles).


As metaphors for how her 4Rs might work, Ichioka narrated what she called her “2 stories”- the progressive protocols for naturalistic landscape being pioneered at the National University of Singapore and the Los Angeles Urban Eco Village.


“Economists agree that GDP is a woefully insufficient measurement of a nation’s social, economic and cultural wellbeing. We also need to find new metrics and standards. We need to zero out CO2 pollution by 2050, rapidly limit super pollutants such as methane and undertake atmospheric carbon removal.


“Let’s be clear. Taking action now - swiftly, decisively will be much easier than delaying it to potential ticking points of no return. We need to move away from current norms and practices in order to have a decent chance of surviving this crisis that economic and political systems have unleashed.


 “Let’s rise to this thrill of fresh challenge. Let’s push the change. Shall we?”


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(March 22, 2019)


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