Samar Hussein, Design Resilience Leader and Associate at Gensler Middle East Reflects on COP 27, Opportunities for the Building Industry in Growing Urban Environments

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Dubai, United Arab Emirates: As the first COP to be hosted on the African continent and the MENA region, this held significant value to the enrichment of climate discussions, by bringing into focus the regional position. We know from the UN world population prospects that the population in African countries is projected to double by 2050. This figure will constitute 25% of the global population. Going forward to 2100, more than eight out of ten of the global population will be living in Asia or Africa. Both continents are considered the next hot spots for the building industry with booming urban migration expected in the next few decades.

With such projections it is essential that we ensure that new developments and urban centres are designed to meet the needs of a changing climate, with emphasis on understanding the local climatic and social contexts of these communities. As developed cities are racing to optimise their existing infrastructure and building stock to reduce carbon emissions, we need to apply lessons learnt and be mindful of how current conventional design and construction practices contribute to climate change.

New building design and construction needs to be adaptable, resilient and resource efficient, hence the need to apply the experience gained from research, scientific insights and sustainable design strategies as core principles as to how we design and operate buildings. If built appropriately, new developments represent a fantastic opportunity for mitigating climate change within the built environment. However, new developments can also present a significant risk if they are built to the baseline emissions of current buildings. As an industry, we need to break away from the concept of “we will do it like we always did.” The building industry needs to evolve and expand sustainable design implementation to steer clear from adding of climatic changes prevalent in the world today. Transforming building methods, whilst adopting low carbon solutions as a basis of design is the way of the future for the industry.

We know from the current trajectory that the goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial level is getting further away. If we do not meet this target, the consequences to the world will be disastrous on a global level, specifically severe on emerging economies, straining financial and natural resources and halting the progress of urban development. The economics of climate change publication developed last year by the Swiss RE institute states that by mid-century, the global economy could lose around 10% of its total value due to climate change and this percentage is amplified in the Middle East, Africa, and the ASEAN regions.

It is excellent that COP 27 brought the topic of loss and damage into focus, and it is refreshing to see how it reached a powerful agreement for funding vulnerable countries facing impacts of climate change.

As a building industry, we need to plan ahead to mitigate these risks in developing regions by supporting the upgrade of local building cityscapes and designing buildings with a focus on resiliency and efficiency.

As a design organisation, Gensler has always been committed to sustainability, this is reinforced by our commitment to reach carbon neutrality throughout our entire portfolio by 2030. We formalised this goal with the introduction of Gensler Cities Climate Challenge Pledge in 2019. This pledge is our commitment – and our challenge to the entire design industry to meet the ambitious goal of eliminating all greenhouse gases associated with the built environment. Our unique position in the Middle East allows us to understand the sophisticated characteristics of the region and local climate challenges present in greater depth. Our goal for carbon neutrality involves every person from our team, every project in our portfolio and every place we serve.

During a panel hosted by Cemex during COP27, Diane Hoskins, Gensler’s Co-CEO stated, “The design and construction industry have a significant and profound role in global decarbonization.” We are diligently striving to enhance our processes and build great partnerships and collaborations to reach this goal both on a local and a global level. Climate focused conferences and forums provide wonderful platforms to build these partnerships. This year, Gensler was a bronze sponsor for COP 27, and we aim to continue participating in future years.

With the conclusion of COP 27 in Egypt and the great commitments and agreements reached in this conference despite present hurdles, we are looking forward to COP 28 in Dubai with great optimism to the global commitments, transformational projects, and collaborations it will bring.