The built environment industry has not been going “far or fast enough” when it comes to tackling climate change, COP26 delegates heard at the conference’s day of events dedicated to the sector.
During a panel on Cities, Regions & Built Environment Day at the global event Cristina Gamboa, CEO of the World Green Building Council, said that the buildings and construction sector and cities “must be elevated as a critical solution provider to the climate emergency”.
Gamboa told delegates: “By 2050, 68 per cent of the world's population will be living in urban areas. Cities, regions and the built environment and within them are critical for climate action. The built environment is responsible for almost 40 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The built environment sector is a strategic sector to simultaneously address the global challenges of various global changes such as climate change, improving living conditions, the economic crisis resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic and the necessary resilience we need to build in our regions and cities. We aim to spotlight local and regional leadership as a vital policy enabler for action on buildings and construction, waste and consumption, circular economy and the creation of green jobs.
“In Africa, owing to increased populations and unplanned urbanisation, demand for infrastructure is rising, with the building floor space footprint expected to double by 2050. What is the continent doing to meet this demand that the sector can take to meet the need for climate-resilient buildings without exacerbating greenhouse gas emissions?”
Elizabeth Chege, chair of Africa Regional Network at World Green Building Council, also on the panel, said: “I want to take a step back to consider the land mass of Africa. There are images around where the US, India, China and most European countries actually fit into Africa – can you imagine that land mass? The challenges that are experienced across those countries? We talk of Africa as a country, but it is a continent. Beyond the challenges there is a lot of opportunity. We are currently building our infrastructure across the region… We need to convert from being a consumer country to manufacturing – not just manufacturing any items but sustainable construction products materials. At the moment we import more than 70 per cent of construction materials."
But Chege added that “one solution doesn’t fit all”, and that it is not so much about focusing on the problems but taking advantage of the opportunity through "radical collaboration".
Separately, Jamie Cameron, director of digital solutions at Johnson Controls UK&I, welcomed the focus on the built environment. He said: “Finally, the role of the built environment gets the attention it deserves at COP26 as global leaders look to address carbon emissions from buildings in today’s dedicated Regions and Built Environment Day. And it’s not before time! About 40 per cent of global carbon emissions and 50 per cent of extracted materials comes from the buildings we use every day.
“At last, the focus of today’s conference sends a clear and urgent message to the world that driving down emissions across the built environment is critical if we are to stand any chance of getting ahead of climate change.
“Thankfully, technologies already exist that can help us in lowering carbon emissions. Reviewing technology investments is one place to start as we gain a complete view on the environmental impacts of the built environment. Smart solutions can integrate all technologies found in a building across the fire, security, controls, HVAC, and occupancy systems, increasing overall efficiency and therefore reducing energy consumption. This is a win-win as businesses can lower energy consumption in their buildings to achieve net-zero goals but also save on energy costs.
“Smart technologies are no longer a gimmick or a flash in the pan initiative and must instead be recognised as a significant vehicle to make a positive impact and advance our sustainability efforts. In this sense, it is clear that smart technologies will be fundamental in reaching our climate goals. The evidence of the benefits of improved visibility over an organisation's carbon footprint – for our people, our planet, and now our businesses – are too prevalent to ignore.”
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