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Changes in building and construction have great potential to slow global warming

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Most of us spend a large chunk of our lives in one building or another, but have you ever stopped to consider the greenhouse gases linked to the construction of these buildings?

One way to reduce greenhouse gases is the use of recycled and more environmentally friendly building materials.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) International Resource Panel has just published a recent report titled Resource Efficiency and Climate Change: Material Efficiency Strategies for a Low-Carbon Future. Commissioned by the G7 countries, it shows that natural resource extraction and processing account for more than 90 per cent of global biodiversity loss and water stress, and around half of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The findings point to opportunities to reduce these impacts through material efficiencies in homes and cars.

According to the Panel’s modelling, emissions from the material cycle of residential buildings in the G7 and China could be reduced by at least 80 per cent in 2050 through a series of material efficiency strategies.

A design with fewer or alternative materials, and more recycling of construction materials are among the most promising strategies, it says.

More concretely, the Panel’s modeling tells us that within the buildings and construction sector, we could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 350 million tonnes in China; 270 million tonnes in India, and 170 million tonnes in G7 countries, between 2016 and 2060.

“Policy intervention from different angles is required to achieve these savings,” says the head of UNEP’s Cities Unit, Martina Otto.

“Policies can influence how people live, which materials they use and how they use them. Instruments such as taxation, zoning and land use regulation play a role, but so do consumer preferences and behaviour.Building codes and standards drive building performance and connect building design to policy. They can encourage or constrain material efficiency and circularity.”

According to the 2019 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction, almost 40 per cent of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions are from the buildings and construction sector.

”In the buildings and construction sector, much attention was concentrated on ‘operational energy efficiency’, the energy used in buildings and which can be influenced by building design, insulation, passive solutions for heating and cooling, appliances and systems improvements as well as maintenance and usage,” says Otto. “But we also need to look at materials to reduce pressure on natural resources and ‘embodied carbon’.” Embodied carbon is the amount of carbon (CO2 or CO2 emission) to produce a material.

Building design and the use of recycled and alternative materials

In G7 countries, material efficiency strategies, including the use of recycled materials, could reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the material cycle of residential buildings by 80 to 100 per cent in 2050, the Panel’s report suggests. Potential reductions in China could amount to 80 to 100 per cent, and to 50 to 70 per cent in India in 2050.

“There are many different options. For example, sustainably managed and harvested timber has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1 to 8 per cent in 2050 in the G7,” says Otto. “There are also a variety of new products, for example from agricultural waste, that could help close loops towards circularity. Choices need to be locally appropriate and include sustainability considerations.  

“Designing buildings using less material (savings of 8 to 10 per cent in 2050 in the G7, according to the Panel’s report) is another thing to look at, alongside passive cooling and heating and natural light to reduce operational energy at the same time.”

The consumption angle

Measures with the highest impact and lowest cost include getting greater use out of buildings for more hours per day and extending the lifetime of buildings (the Panel says up to 70 per cent savings could be achieved by 2050 in the G7).

Improved recycling could reduce greenhouse gases by 14 to 18 per cent in 2050 in the G7. Overall, cumulative savings in the period 2016–2050 from these strategies in the G7 would amount to 5 to 7 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent, says the report.

Looking at the whole building life cycle, material efficiency strategies could reduce emissions in 2050 from the construction, operations and dismantling of homes by 35 to 40 per cent in the G7. Analogous savings could be up to 50 to 70 per cent in China and India.

“Virgin material taxation and removal of virgin resource subsidies should be key options for policymakers,” says Otto. The Global ABC Roadmaps 2020–2050 provide targets and timelines to achieve zero-emissions, efficient and resilient buildings and construction.

The world must immediately begin to deliver faster greenhouse gas emission cuts to keep global temperature rise to 1.5°C, says the November 2019 edition of UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report.

“To achieve this goal, we will need to use the full range of emission reduction options. We need progress in all sectors: energy, industry, agriculture, forestry, transportation and buildings, better integration across sectors, and urban planning and design to meet this target,” says Otto.

UN Environment

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Urban Development

City Climate Finance Gap Fund completes first year of operation

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The City Climate Finance Gap Fund (the Gap Fund) has approved technical assistance for 33 cities across the developing world since its operational launch in September 2020, filling a critical gap in technical assistance funding to help cities turn their climate ambitions into finance-ready projects.

Marking its one-year operational launch anniversary today, the Gap Fund has received over 140 expressions of interests and approved technical assistance for 33 cities in India, Mexico, Ethiopia, Morocco, Democratic Republic of Congo, Panama, Senegal, Vietnam, Kosovo, Montenegro, Ecuador, South Africa, Vanuatu, Colombia, Indonesia, Brazil, Guatemala, Uganda and Ukraine. An additional 30 cities are currently undergoing a detailed assessment for potential Gap Fund support, with a total target of at least 180 cities.

The Gap Fund is currently capitalized at €55 million, with a target of at least €100 million and the potential to unlock an estimated €4 billion in investments. The aim is to help cities understand their exposure to climate challenges, develop plans and strategies to reduce emissions and vulnerability to climate risks, and identify and prioritize climate-smart urban infrastructure investments.

The Gap Fund demonstrates a unique collaborative model: With funding from Germany and Luxembourg, the Fund is co-implemented by the World Bank and the European Investment Bank in partnership with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit and works directly with city groups and networks including GCOM, ICLEI, C40 and CCFLA. This concerted effort has helped raise awareness about the importance of cities and urban systems in the climate agenda and could not come at a more critical time, as the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report confirms that cities are the hotspots of global warming, with the global urban climate finance gap estimated in the trillions of dollars, especially in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Gap Fund also contributes cutting-edge knowledge, tools and recommendations. For example, by featuring in theState of Cities Climate Finance Report Part 2: Enabling Conditions for Mobilizing Urban Climate Finance, whichprovides critical systems-level conceptual frameworks and recommendations for city, country and climate decision-makers. The Gap Fund has also developed or packaged user-friendly practical tools and notes for operational practitioners and project developers on the ground.

The way cities develop in the coming years, especially in these regions, will influence the trajectory of future greenhouse gas emissions, and the susceptibility of cities to increased flood risks and urban heat island effects. The focus on cities is also reflected in the World Bank’s Climate Action Plan, which has identified cities and urban systems as a focus area on a par with energy, transport, food and industry.

Some of the Gap Fund’s most recent grant activities include:

  • San Miguelito, Panama: Identify climate-smart and energy-efficient urban interventions for new cable car infrastructure, with the potential to cut emissions and reduce vulnerability to floods.
  • Dakar, Senegal: Integrate low-carbon and climate-resilient considerations into the planning, development and construction of affordable and green housing in the greater Dakar region, including piloting  a green building certification incentive for building developers.
  • Mangalore and Kolar, India: Prepare a climate diagnostic report for solid waste management as well as an action plan for improving and financing low-carbon solid waste management services, including a pre-feasibility study.
  • Bogota, Colombia: Provide technical assistance for greenhouse gas and air quality analytics, city-wide coordination and recommendations to incorporate low-carbon and climate-resilient considerations in the Low-Carbon Vital Neighbourhoods in Bogota– the first pilot in Latin America to implement a “Proximity City Urban Development Model” (also known as the 15-minute city model).
  • Chefchaouen, Morocco: Prepare a study on low-carbon solid waste management activities including waste sorting, biogas recovery, leachate treatment and the use of solar energy.
  • Vinnytsia, Ukraine: Support climate change adaptation measures along the Southern Bug River, such as new green spaces along the embankments, development of beaches to improve river transport and the construction of a new bridge to improve walking routes north and south of the city.
  • Campinas, Sao Paolo State, Brazil: Promote climate change adaptation and reduce flood risks through nature-based solutions along the Capivari river.
  • Danané, Côte d’Ivoire: Support the deployment of a fleet of 600 low-carbon, low-cost solar tricycle taxis to meet the city’s most pressing mobility needs for people, including expectant mothers, and cargo.
  • Escuintla, San José and Iztapa, Guatemala: Assess the quality of existing waste generation and characterisation data of municipal solid waste and make any necessary additions, compare organic solid waste treatment alternatives and suggest improvements to the existing organisational structure and governance.
  • Santa Marta, Colombia: Improve and enhance the city’s urban forest and forest management, and identify funding opportunities at regional, national or international level as well as links to other potential natural infrastructure projects along Santa Marta’s ecological corridors.
  • Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Improve hydrological modelling to assess urban flood risks and economic modelling to assess the viability of restoring wetlands as a natural barrier in flood-prone areas and carry out stakeholder consultations.
  • Makindye Ssabagabo, Uganda: Study existing waste generation, carry out a characterisation study of municipal solid waste using random and seasonal data, and compare organic solid waste treatment alternatives.
  • Palembang, Musi Rawas and Lubuklinggau cities, Indonesia: Prepare a cost-benefit analysis, strategy and action plan for green, resilient construction and energy-efficient affordable housing in these three cities. Project would help inform the national Government One Million Housing program which aims to provide incentives for developers to build 220,000 homes per annum and to upgrade 160,000 affordable homes. 

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Urban Development

WEF Launches Toolbox of Solutions to Accelerate Decarbonization in Cities

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With the percentage of people living in cities projected to rise to 68% by 2050, resulting in high energy consumption, greater infrastructure needs and, carbon emissions, cities have a critical role to play in the race to reach net zero. To help address this challenge, the World Economic Forum, is releasing today the first iteration of its Toolbox of Solutions, designed and built in collaboration with Accenture.

The toolbox is an interactive digital platform containing more than 200 practical solutions to help city leaders, national governments and businesses evaluate and identify optimal solutions for near-term implementation, kick-starting their decarbonization journey. The first-of-its-kind toolbox draws on input and case studies from more than 110 cities, businesses, academics, civil society leaders and other urban stakeholders around the world and across sectors to capture best practices and case studies for urban transformation and decarbonization.

The solutions include policy, business and finance models that result in reduced emissions and other valuable outcomes such as job creation and improved air quality. These solutions are also tailored to specific city attributes including the electricity grid’s health, local population density and income level.

“Decarbonization solutions already exist – we don’t need to wait for the next big innovation. This platform provides examples of policies and business models that have been used successfully around the world. We are starting with 200 solutions and expect to have many more over the course of the next year,” said Kristen Panerali, Head of Energy, Materials and Infrastructure Programme, Net-Zero Carbon Cities, World Economic Forum.

“Urban ecosystems are pivotal in our global journey to net zero, driven by clean and smart electrification. These sustainability initiatives can help accelerate efforts to address climate change with practical and integrated energy solutions for urban transformation for cities of any size around the world,” said Jean-Marc Ollagnier, Chief Executive Officer, Europe, Accenture.

Achieving net-zero emissions at city scale will require a transformation in how energy is produced, distributed, and consumed. A related report shows how the built environment and mobility can serve as a catalyst for urban transformation and decarbonization anywhere in the world.

The Toolbox of Solutions is part of the Forum’s Net-Zero Carbon Cities programme, which brings together businesses with city, regional and national government leaders to accelerate urban transitions to a net-zero future. The programme’s objective is to align and scale efforts across businesses, cities and national-level governments to deliver urban ecosystems that are sustainable, resilient and equitable. The programme aims to enable transformation towards clean electrification and circularity, using integrated energy solutions to address energy, buildings and mobility. The Net-Zero Carbon Cities programme is co-chaired by Jean-Pascal Tricoire, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Schneider Electric, and Francesco Starace, Chief Executive Officer, Enel.

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Urban Development

As cities fill tech gaps, power of smart cities unleashes

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Governing Smart Cities, a report released today by the World Economic Forum, provides a benchmark for the ethical and responsible use of smart city technologies by looking into the inner workings of 36 Pioneer Cities. The authors of the report seek to help city leaders identify gaps, protect long-term interests and keep up with the pace of technology.

According to the report, cities of all sizes, geographies and levels of development have serious governance gaps, such as the failure to designate a person accountable for cybersecurity or to assess privacy risks when procuring new technology systems. However, leaders can close these gaps and protect long-term interests by acting now.

Written in partnership with Deloitte, the report follows the call to action from G20 ministers in 2019 that resulted in the creation of the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance. The Alliance and its partners represent over 200,000 cities, local governments, leading companies, start-ups, research institutions and civil society communities. It acts as a platform to help cities strengthen their knowledge, expertise and governance of smart city technologies. The Forum is its secretariat.

The 36 Pioneer Cities surveyed span six continents and 22 countries, and have populations ranging from 70,000 to over 15 million. Policy experts and government officials were interviewed from January to March 2021 to assess the implementation of a set of five essential policies identified by the G20 Alliance last year.

Key findings

Nearly all the cities surveyed – including those that are generally regarded as leading global cities – have critical policy gaps related to their governance of smart city technologies

Despite an unprecedented increase in global cybersecurity attacks, most cities have not designated a specific government official as ultimately accountable for cybersecurity.

While the majority of cities recognize the importance of protecting the privacy of their citizens, only 17% of cities surveyed carry out privacy impact assessments before deploying new technologies.

Less than half of the cities surveyed have processes in place to ensure that technologies they procure are accessible to elderly residents or individuals with limited physical abilities.

Open data policy is perhaps the only area in which most cities in the sample have achieved a level of basic implementation. Even here, only 15% of the Pioneer Cities have integrated their open data portals with their wider city data infrastructure, which is a necessary step towards making a city “open by default”.

“Cities are continuing to invest heavily in new technologies to automate and improve city services and urban life. Yet our findings validate our fears that most cities are falling behind when it comes to ensuring effective oversight and governance of these technologies,” said Jeff Merritt, Head of Internet of Things and Urban Transformation, World Economic Forum. “The G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance is working with cities across the globe to address this gap, beginning with more than 15 policy workshops with city officials this summer.”

“Cities have an array of opportunities to become more resilient and sustainable. Technology is an enabler but, to fulfill its full potential, Cities need to revise their governance, operational, and financing models. Here lies the biggest challenge Cities face. Deloitte is proud to have worked with the Forum in this initiative. It is fundamental for us all to gain consciousness of the complexity of the issues and focus on how the moment we are all living can be a key opportunity”, said Miguel Eiras Antunes, Global Smart Cities Leader, Deloitte Global. “Now is the moment for a great urban transformation. Addressing urban challenges through the lenses of sustainability, inclusion, and technology is critical to develop and implement a roadmap to guide cities with their governance of smart technology and make an impact that matters.”

How to take action

The report concludes that city leaders and officials need to take action before these governance gaps become material risk and affect residents. The report’s authors also call for national policymakers, civil society and the business community to help support local governments in overcoming these challenges. Inclusion, data privacy and cybersecurity attacks are top concerns and the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance has a mandate to help cities close the governance gaps that this report has uncovered. Cities looking for assistance in identifying and addressing their policy gaps are encouraged to contact the Alliance via their website.

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