As the United Arab Emirates prepares to host the upcoming COP 28 and the region sharpens its commitment to achieving net-zero targets, the spotlight is on the pivotal role that sustainability-focused construction technologies can play.
Recent research conducted by Strategy Middle East, a division of the PwC network, and the planning, design, management, and consultancy firm Dar, indicates that these innovative construction technologies have the potential to contribute significantly. The research suggests that within the MENA region’s substantial $2 trillion construction surge, the adoption of sustainability-focused construction technologies could result in a notable 50-60% reduction in lifecycle emissions.
The report highlights the prospect of the region emerging as a worldwide frontrunner in the application of cutting-edge and sustainability-centric construction technologies. With an anticipated investment of up to $2 trillion in new ‘built environments’ by 2035, the region is poised to lead the global charge in innovative construction practices. Mentioning ambitious mega-projects like Saudi Arabia’s NEOM futuristic city and Qatar’s planned Lusail entertainment city, the report indicates that the integration of sustainable technologies could propel the region significantly closer to realizing its net-zero emissions objectives.
The term ‘built environment’ encompasses the artificial surroundings created for human activities, encompassing structures, neighborhoods, cities, and the interconnected infrastructure systems supporting them, such as water supply and energy networks. The development of new built environments involves various processes, including urban planning, real estate, construction, and asset operation. In these processes, the incorporation of inventive and sustainability-focused methods and technologies can play a pivotal role.
The report further projects that the extensive construction surge across the region has the potential to generate a significant economic impact, constituting slightly over 10% of the region’s annual GDP. Additionally, the implementation of the recommendations outlined in the report could result in the creation of 4.3 million jobs annually.
“The planned scale of investments in the GCC region provides a unique opportunity to lead the way in the adoption of sustainable technologies and processes. Globally, the built environment contributes significantly to emissions, accounting for approximately 37% of energy use, 39% of CO2 emissions, and 40% of material consumption,” stated Dr. Yahya Anouti, Partner at Strategy Middle East and leader of the sustainability platform at PwC Middle East. “Our estimations indicate that by reducing these emissions in urban development, the region could make substantial progress, surpassing the halfway mark towards achieving its net-zero emissions objectives,” he added.
Encouragingly for planners and developers, certain technologies and innovations essential for reimagining the built environment are already available and can be steadily executed in the short term. Examples include solar photovoltaics, environmentally friendly construction materials, and artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled systems in buildings. Nevertheless, the report suggests that some innovations are still in their early stages and necessitate further investment and time for development, testing, and seamless integration.
“If stakeholders in the GCC, encompassing policymakers, innovators, and developers, adopt a genuinely innovative and sustainable strategy for urban development, they have the chance to establish a groundbreaking global standard. Embracing sustainability across urban planning, architecture, civil engineering, mechanical systems, and construction materials has the potential to significantly enhance the quality of life, foster incremental economic growth, and cultivate local skills and employment opportunities,” expressed Balsam Nehme, Head of Sustainability at Dar Al-Handasah.
The Strategy and Dar report emphasizes that realizing the full potential of the $2 trillion opportunity requires substantial changes, presenting significant implications for stakeholders in the built environment. Regulators would play a vital role in stimulating technology demand, potentially through integration into green building codes. Developers must embrace sustainable construction techniques and consider setting specific goals, such as targets for emission reduction. Sovereign wealth funds and other financiers are pivotal in initiating and propelling this transition, possibly by establishing net-zero aspirations for the maturation they finance. Collaboration among all stakeholders is crucial, with success hinging on the sharing of insights gained from commanders and attempts to drive the widespread adoption of sustainable practices and innovations.
“Our research delves into more than 50 innovations capable of reshaping the paradigm toward tolerable built environments, significantly mitigating emissions from both incorporated and functional carbon. These innovations span a spectrum of passive measures, including building design, as well as active measures, such as enhanced electrical and mechanical systems efficiency,” stated Sarah Al Feghali, the moonshots and innovation lead at the Ideation Center at Strategy.
“Furthermore, numerous measures can be deployed to assist policymakers in their planning decisions, concurrently aiding developers in navigating the opportunities linked to the region’s built environment aspirations,” she added.
The report from Strategy and Dar outlines 17 high-potential and actionable applications spanning various domains to curtail emissions. These encompass areas such as mobility, composed landscapes, expansion density, mechanical systems, and construction techniques