My Personal Observations from COP28

From November 29th to December 12th, 2023, I had the remarkable opportunity to participate in the 28th Conference of the Parties UAE (COP28), held at the Expo City, Dubai. COP28 marked a significant milestone as it concluded the first-ever ‘global stocktake’ of worldwide efforts to combat climate change under the Paris Agreement. The Conference was extended due to unprecedented negotiations that led to a groundbreaking commitment to transition away from all fossil fuels.

Expo City, renowned for hosting the six-month long 2020 Expo, showcased meticulous planning and inspirational architecture. Internationally acclaimed architects designed pavilions for participating countries, creating an awe-inspiring 1,083-acre site divided into three zones: Opportunity, Sustainability, and Mobility. This organizational structure, inherited from the Expo, was mirrored in COP28, influencing conference topics, presentations, exhibitions, and special events.

Unknown-2 | Mary Morissette, FIAA
Unknown-1 | Mary Morissette, FIAA

The COP venue comprised two distinct zones: the Blue Zone, reserved for accredited delegates (which AIA was) and where the official business is conducted, and the Green Zone, accessible to the public. Published statistics indicate that over 500,000 attended the Blue and Green Zones over the two weeks. Although my experiences were confined to the Green Zone, the opportunities for engagement were extensive. It was like being at 3-4 AIA conferences simultaneously.

My focus centered on topics such as the impact of climate on health, renewable energy research, and emerging technologies, yielding several key takeaways:

Climate impacts have no boundaries, and the complexities are limitless. We truly are all in this together and the level of intellect and ambition going toward solving climate issues are impressive.

Unknown-3 | Mary Morissette, FIAA
Unknown-4 | Mary Morissette, FIAA

The primary reason for visiting Dubai was COP28, but there were so many other amazing experiences to be had.  We visited the Museum of the Future, toured Masdar City which was designed to be a sustainable eco-city, and went to Abu Dhabi driving by the Saadiyat Cultural District which includes the Louvre, Zayed National Museum, and other significant architectural projects.

Additionally, I had the privilege of meeting a US architect overseeing the Middle East operations of an international firm. He shared interesting information about the region, including the fact that most of the buildings in Dubai are less than 25 years old. There are older areas, but the extensive city Dubai has become is new, including the well-known Palm. I also learned there is a second airport being planned and construction of the Dubia Creek Tower, set to surpass the Burj Khalifa as the world’s tallest building. The dense urban area around the marina showcased impressive high-rise buildings, complemented by Dubai’s efficient metro system.

On our last night in Dubai, we had dinner with AIA leadership attending the conference. Engaging in lively discussions, we explored the leadership and innovation architects can contribute to the evolving climate conversation. Attending COP28 solidified my belief that architects can significantly and positively impact the built and natural environments.

(These observations are written with the awareness of the human rights issues associated with the UAE and construction of Expo City and are only intended to share my personal experiences while in the UAE.)

About the Author

Mary Morissette, FAIA

Mary Morissette, FAIA NCARB LEED AP is a recognized leader in the design community. She has been working in Colorado since 1992, primarily focused on institutional projects that provide high community value, including healthcare, judicial, and education. Sought after for her expertise, she has been instrumental in the growth of existing Denver architectural firms and national firms expanding into Colorado.  

Mary has been appointed to numerous city and state committees and boards, contributing to important conversations regarding her community. She served as a Governor appointee on the State Board of Licensure for Architects, Professional Engineers and Professional Land Surveyors, and remains active in NCARB and NAAB. Mary served on the AIA Colorado Board of Directors in Executive Committee positions, including President.

In 2014, Mary was elevated to the AIA’s College of Fellows based upon her leadership in the AIA, advocacy for the profession, and mentorship of emerging professionals.  She was awarded a Bachelor of Architecture from Virginia Tech.

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