COP21 and shaping buildings for the future

Written by EMS

Two decades of UN talks have finally led to an agreement concerning strong emissions targets. Last month almost 200 nation representatives met at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21). They committed to keep temperature rise below 2°C, an unprecedented move to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in order to stop the dangerous consequences of climate change.

Climate change is a complex topic with severe consequences around the world. In order to find an effective solution to successfully reduce GHG emissions, all disciplines need to work together.

Over 30% of global GHG emissions are attributed to the building sector. If we concentrate on creating efficient buildings, we can solve a fair share of the climate change crisis. Energy efficiency and conservation is the most cost-effective and economically beneficial path to transition to sustainable energy systems. Returns from energy efficiency in buildings are not only limited to environmental and economic factors; they can deliver many social benefits. Moreover, they help to optimise the indoor air quality leading to improved health, higher productivity and motivation.

The efforts of fast-developing countries, such as the UAE and the neighbouring Gulf countries, on energy efficiency will have a significant impact on building climate resilience for the future. In the UAE, the major source of emissions is energy consumption in buildings, with the largest contributors being cooling and ventilation systems. We have a responsibility to shape our buildings and infrastructure towards a sustainable future. The potential is there, the technology is ready, and the reasons to act are clear.

Governments in the region have shown their commitment to implementing energy conservation policies and standards for buildings and appliances. However, close collaboration between the government and the private sector is essential. Are we doing enough? How can we close the gaps? What are our roles as developers, contractors, consultants or specialists?

Efficiency must be the common denominator for any project’s sustainable and commercial objectives. Increasing energy efficiency requires a focus on stringent KPIs, clear definitions of efficiency and quality and tracking. Persistent pursuit of efficiency and passive performance without compromising the occupant’s well being is crucial. If the project fails to maintain these key elements while staying cost effective, taking capital and operating expenses into consideration, it can result in a waste of resources.

Clients and developers need to include energy efficiency in their KPIs and commit to it. Architects, consultants and contractors must communicate and collaborate with each other at the earliest possible stages. We’ve seen beautiful and highly efficient designs in the region that do not cost more per square meter than any “business as usual” project. Early communication and teamwork are the key factors in achieving smarter buildings. However, this is just the beginning and any design can become obsolete quickly if it is not properly operated and maintained.

Facilities management and maintenance companies need to catch up with the integration of advanced building technologies. Energy audits and commissioning services are great tools that help identify and implement energy efficiency measures in existing and new systems using a whole systems approach leading to optimisation.

Buildings have a long life expectancy. Failing to act now may result in a dramatic increase of GHG emissions which will remain for decades. We have the ability to shape the future of the world for better or for worse. It is in our hands to prove that simple solutions are possible for complex challenges.

As Albert Einstein once said: “It’s in crisis that invention is born, as well as discoveries, and big strategies… it’s during crisis that we can show the very best in us.”

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