Why we need sustainable housing solutions for a better tomorrow

Policy rethinking needs to include construction materials and implementing more robust regulations

By Yousif Ahmed Al-Mutawa

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Sharjah Sustainable City is designed to reduce carbon emissions by using renewable energy sources. - Supplied photo
Sharjah Sustainable City is designed to reduce carbon emissions by using renewable energy sources. - Supplied photo

Published: Sat 18 Feb 2023, 4:05 PM

Last updated: Sat 18 Feb 2023, 7:58 PM

Along with food and clothing, shelter is one of the most immediate basic human needs. Amidst planetary challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution, the world today also faces a double whammy of population growth – projected to reach 8.6 billion in 2030 and 9.8 billion by 2050 – and surging demand for housing and commercial properties.

By 2030, 3 billion people will need new housing and about 300 million new homes will be required, or roughly 21 million new homes per year. This staggering projection also means increased demand for construction and associated materials, including steel, aluminum, glass, bricks and concrete – the second most used resource on the planet after water.

It also leads to the depletion of already scarce natural resources, particularly soil and freshwater, and more energy demand, thus contributing to Green House Gas (GHG) emissions. Unfortunately, commercial and residential buildings globally are responsible for over one-third of energy use and energy-related GHG emissions. In particular, buildings are responsible for about 39 per cent of global energy-related carbon emissions, which includes 28 per cent from operational emissions, from the energy needed to heat, cool, and power them, and 11 per cent from construction and materials such as steel, cement, and glass.

Effective policymaking and sustainability-driven projects offer solutions

Looking at this alarming trend, the world needs to step up efforts to make real estate sustainable, especially in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), the world’s most water-scarce region and home to some of the hottest areas on the planet. It includes rethinking construction materials and implementing more robust regulations to ensure the whole life cycle of the industry has a minimal negative impact on our environment – from conception to construction and from inhabiting to demolition and waste disposal.

Yousif Ahmed Al-Mutawa, Chief Executive Officer of Sharjah Sustainable City. - Supplied photo
Yousif Ahmed Al-Mutawa, Chief Executive Officer of Sharjah Sustainable City. - Supplied photo

More importantly, innovative and tangible solutions must be identified, scaled up, and highlighted on different global platforms.

One such platform was the World Government Summit 2023, hosted by Dubai this week. The summit brought together about 10,000 participants, including presidents, ministers, government officials, heads of international organizations and companies, thought leaders, global experts, and prominent business leaders who will share visions and discuss ideas and strategies for the future.

Keeping in view the importance of sustainability in the real estate sector, one of the summit’s key themes focused on global city design and sustainability. It served as a vital platform to discuss how governments can help create better sustainable cities as we face rapid urbanization and how we can efficiently embrace sustainability-driven infrastructures while engaging communities and promoting clean energy and decarbonisation.

UAE paves the way for sustainable living

Thanks to the efforts by the UAE’s leadership, the country has been at the forefront of promoting sustainable living and setting examples through initiatives like National Net Zero by 2050 Pathway and a nationwide plan to introduce new sustainability standards for buildings, roads and homes to preserve resources and reduce the country’s carbon footprint. The plan aims to cut the energy requirements of buildings and homes by 25 per cent and to reduce water consumption by 16 per cent. Also, the amount of energy and materials it takes to build roads would be cut by 45 per cent.

In line with these efforts and as it gears to host COP28, the country also declared 2023 as the Year of Sustainability. It will focus more on environmental sustainability by inspiring collective action through a nationwide commitment toward sustainable practices this year and beyond.

Sustainable cities

Keeping up with these efforts, the UAE also ranks high in the number of buildings accredited by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and is creating an enabling environment for green investments and constructing eco-friendly buildings and sustainable cities in different emirates.

Sharjah Sustainable City is one such initiative, which is designed to reduce carbon emissions by using renewable energy sources, promoting green mobility, repurposing waste and using sustainable construction materials. Besides utilizing renewable energy sources, the city is equipped with a biogas plant to treat organic waste (food waste, green waste, and sludge) that will convert waste problems into a resource (electricity and/or thermal energy).

Moreover, the city also promotes community engagement and builds capacities through a number of programs focused on green living and how we can together reduce our carbon and water footprints. It also promotes health and well-being as well as sustainable agriculture and repurposing waste.

Way forward

No doubt, the concept of sustainable cities is one of the most effective means to promote sustainable living in countries like the UAE as we speed up our efforts toward Net Zero ambitions. However, there is still a long way to go when the concept is adopted more widely in other countries, especially in the Mena region. Due to its importance for economic growth, the construction sector is yet here to grow further so will its impact on our environment. However, with visionary leadership and taping the potential of emerging talent and innovations, realising a sustainable world is already in the offing.

The writer is chief executive officer of Sharjah Sustainable City.


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