Gulf construction holds huge emissions savings potential

01 March 2024
Sustainable construction practices could cut the emissions of planned Gulf projects by up to 60%

As the region intensifies its focus on its net-zero targets in the wake of the Cop28 climate summit, sustainability-focused construction technologies are poised to play a crucial role.

According to a recent report by Strategy& Middle East and design and engineering consultancy Dar, sustainability-focused construction technologies could help the Mena region’s $2tn construction surge through to 2035 reduce lifecycle emissions by 50-60%.

The scale of the region-wide construction boom is such that it could also contribute 10% of GDP for the region annually, as well as create 4.3 million jobs a year, if changes outlined in the report are implemented.

Applying innovations

Citing megaprojects such as the Neom futuristic city in Saudi Arabia and Qatar’s planned Lusail entertainment city, the report also suggests sustainable technologies could take the region halfway to achieving its net-zero emissions goals.

The research identifies 17 high-potential and actionable recommendations to reduce emissions across areas such as mobility, mechanical systems, landscaping, development density and construction processes. Five key areas include:

  • Active facades: In hot countries, dynamic façades that respond to the environment to balance incoming light and heat can deliver energy savings of up to 55%
  • Living roofs: Also known as vegetated or green roofs, these can make roof surfaces 30-40% cooler and have the added benefit of retaining stormwater
  • Modular assembly: Designing for modular assembly can reduce embodied carbon emissions by more than 19% over the lifetime of the built asset
  • Sustainable pathways: Recycled roads and walkways can reduce embodied carbon by more than 90% and be half as costly to produce as traditional asphalt surfaces
  • On-site wastewater treatment: Localising this process can reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by nearly 90% and decrease the water transmission energy costs

“Our research examines over 50 innovations that can shift the paradigm towards sustainable built environments, substantially reducing emissions from both embodied and operational carbon,” says Sarah Al Feghali, innovation lead at Strategy&’s Ideation Centre.

“These innovations encompass a variety of passive measures, including the design of buildings, as well as active measures, such as more efficient electrical and mechanical systems. Additionally, several measures can be implemented to support policymakers in their planning decisions, while aiding developers in addressing the opportunities associated with the region’s built environment aspirations.”

The research suggests that the region also has the potential to become a global leader in innovative and sustainability-focused construction technologies as it invests in built environments of the future.

Implementation at planning

To maximise the gain from these trends, the implementation must begin in the planning phase, so that every step – from urban planning, to real estate masterplanning, construction and asset operating – is optimised to make the best use of innovative and sustainability-focused methods and technologies.

“The GCC region’s planned scale of investments uniquely positions it to pioneer a range of sustainable technologies and processes,” says Yahya Anouti, partner and leader of the sustainability platform at PwC Middle East.

“Overall, the built environment is responsible for a high emissions footprint of around 37% of energy use, 39% of CO2 emissions, and 40% of material use globally. Our estimates show that a reduction in these emissions for urban development could take the region more than halfway to realising its net-zero emissions goals.”

The good news for planners and developers is that some of the technologies and innovations needed to rethink the built environment already exist or can be implemented in the near term.

Three specific areas of innovation alone have the potential to take the region more than halfway to realising its net-zero emissions goals, and these are: next-generation materials, renewable energy and artificial intelligence-driven innovations, such as AI-driven building management systems.

However, the report indicates that other innovations are nascent and require additional investment and time to develop, test and integrate.

Onboarding stakeholders

“If GCC stakeholders – including policymakers, innovators, and developers – embrace a truly innovative and sustainable approach to urban development, they face a golden opportunity to set a new global standard,” says Balsam Nehme, head of sustainability, Dar Al-Handasah.

“From urban planning to architecture, civil engineering, mechanical systems and construction materials, sustainable development can deliver widespread better quality of life, incremental economic growth, and develop local skills and jobs.”

Regulators will need to play a role in stimulating demand for the technologies, including through green building codes, while developers will need to embrace sustainable construction techniques and may want to set specific goals, such as emission reduction targets.

Sovereign wealth funds and other financiers are essential to jump-start and drive the transition, potentially by setting net-zero aspirations for the developments they are financing.

Collaboration is required among all stakeholders, and their success depends on sharing lessons learned from pilots and trials to drive the adoption of sustainable practices and innovations.

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