Currently, just over half the world’s population lives in cities, but that is expected to rise to 68% by 2050. As a consequence, world energy demand is set to increase by more than 50 percent by 2050, according to predictions by the US Energy Information Administration – resulting in even higher energy consumption.
Hence, rapid urbanisation and a rapidly growing population along with climate change are key challenges that cities and countries must urgently address.
Closer to home, energy efficiency is a rising challenge in the UAE, due to a growing population, rise in economic activity, and increased energy consumption at a pace that will be difficult to provide for over the long term.
In a growing economy, energy consumption will rise despite reductions in the energy intensity of developed economies.
Although more and more cities are boosting their commitment and progress to becoming net zero carbon, they still have a long way to go. With climate change worsening, more action is required on specific fronts. Everything from factories and homes to transport systems and consumer devices need to become more energy efficient.
One such solution lies in implementing Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS), i.e. automation systems that collect energy measurement data from the field and make it available to users through graphics, online monitoring tools, and energy quality analysers, thus enabling the management of energy resources.
The effectiveness of energy policies and regulations
Prior research indicates that buildings consume 80% of the overall energy demand in the UAE (UAE) and 40% across the globe. The UAE’s Federal Electricity & Water Authority (FEWA) estimates that around 60 to 70 percent of energy demand in the UAE currently stems from building HVAC requirements, with split air-conditioning units making up an estimated 60-70 percent of cooling systems in the market.
Therefore, the UAE as a whole, and Dubai in particular, have put in place different energy security and efficiency strategies such as UAE Vision 2021, Dubai Integrated Energy Strategy 2030 (aims to reduce Dubai’s total energy consumption by 30% by 2030), and Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050 (gradually increase the employment of clean energy sources to 75 per cent by 2050).
Additionally, Dubai has established the ‘Green Building Regulations and Specifications’ (GBRS) which aims to improve the performance of buildings in Dubai by reducing the consumption of energy, water and materials; improving public health, safety and general welfare; and by enhancing the planning, design, construction and operation of buildings.
Although not mandatory, GBRS acts more as a guideline for developers and contractors and offers recommendations for constructing energy efficient buildings in Dubai. It is intended to support Dubai’s Strategic Plan, create a more sustainable urban environment and extend the ability of the Emirate’s infrastructure to meet the needs of future development.
Maximising hedonic efficiency (extent to which the delivered service meets the demand) will offer a route to providing optimal service with reduced consumption. However, it is challenging to draft policy initiatives to maximise hedonic efficiency. This needs to be explored and considered by the professional and regulatory bodies.
In addition to a more persuasive regulatory framework, marketing and awareness campaigns that encourage building owners, occupants, developers, and other stakeholders to lessen their energy consumption can have a positive impact on energy conservation. DEWA’s ‘Smart Living’ initiative is one such example that allows consumers monitor their electricity (and water) consumption easily and make smarter decisions to reduce consumption.
Additionally, the adoption of innovative technologies such as EMS are needed for a more cohesive approach to achieving energy-efficiency.
BEMS to the rescue
BEMS enables real-time remote monitoring and integrated control of a broad spectrum of connected systems – allowing modes of operation, energy usage, environmental conditions and so on to be observed and allowing hours of operation, set points and more to be adapted in order to improve energy performance and occupancy comfort.
According to Mordor Intelligence, the Middle East and African market for energy management systems is projected to grow at a CAGR of 11.87% to reach USD 3.76 billion by 2021. This growth in demand comes from concerns over declining energy security, ambitious environmental goals, and the reduced cost of sensors, analytics software and data storage.
Currently, adoption levels across the GCC are lower due to a lack of codified regulation. Hence, a directive from the government to deploy energy management systems could play a critical role in helping country meet its sustainability targets.
There are two major aspects of constructing energy efficient buildings: using “green” design and building materials during the construction phase; and continuous monitoring and controlling energy consumption during the operation phase. While there has been enough emphasis on sustainable construction in some GCC states, there is very little attention on the installation of energy management systems. Focusing on energy management systems should be a key factor in the efforts towards creating a sustainable built environment in the region.
It is claimed that the magnitude of savings accomplished by BEMS can range from 10% to 25%. If used properly, BEMS should allow the optimisation of energy consumption without compromising on comfort or performance. But this requires an in-depth knowledge of how buildings are meant to perform, and how different systems within them communicate. In order to operate accurately, BEMS should be properly designed, installed and commissioned as well as have a user interface that is easy to use.
BEMS may have remote outposts that can be probed locally, or may be managed via mobile devices. However, some buildings could be susceptible to cyberattacks, especially when they are related to critical organisations. This can become an issue in the case of functions that run in the ‘cloud’, such as cloud-based analytics, and the ability to access and manage multiple sites remotely. The ability to retrieve live analytics, or receive alarm notifications from hand-held devices has enormous potential benefits, but may also bring additional risks.
BEMS taken into consideration right from the start of a new construction project can help owners and facility managers gain better control over energy use. Given the large push for sustainability, especially within the built environment, BEMS can therefore become crucial in Dubai and the UAE as more and more green projects come to fruition.
The current generation of smart cities aiming to make buildings greener and smarter should invest more in BEMS and other technologies. Moving forward, BEMS will play a vital role in contributing towards the sustainability goals of energy-smart cities, as sensor-equipped, energy consuming devices such as HVAC, lighting, and refrigeration, become more integrated with BEMS.
Even today and despite all that, oil, coal, and gas provide about a lot of our energy needs but we are gradually aware that:
Using fossil fuels has an enormous toll on humanity and the environment—from air and water pollution to global warming and certainly the COVID-19. That’s not taking the negative impacts of petroleum-based products such as plastics and chemicals.
And all agree that it’s time to move toward a clean energy future. In recent years, the divest movement from fossil fuels has grown to a multi-trillion dollar movement involving more than 350 institutions worldwide. And thanks to stricter policies to address the climate crisis, fossil fuels are gradually becoming yesterday’s energy source. Since 2016, renewable power is slowly replacing fossil fuels usage at all levels.
In the meantime, it looks as if the following is ongoing as per local media.
Around 400 million people could see their livelihoods affected as a result of lower revenues from declining fossil fuel sales
Oil-exporting countries stand to lose nearly $13 trillion in revenue by 2040 as global economies continue to decarbonise their power systems, according to a report by Carbon Tracker.
As countries around the world lower their carbon footprint and energy companies set net-zero emissions targets over the coming decades oil exporting economies will face an existential crisis.
Around 40 oil exporters surveyed by the UK-based think tank will require $9tn to bridge the gap in income shortfalls amid structural changes in energy consumption.
Around 400 million people could see their livelihoods affected as a result of lower revenues from declining fossil fuel sales. The most affected will be oil exporters based in Africa. Nigeria, the continent’s biggest producer, will be the hardest hit as a 70 per cent drop in oil revenues will slash government income by a third. Angola, a southern African country will also stand to lose over 40 per cent of government revenue, endangering the standard of living of nearly 33 million people.
“Government oil revenues will shift dramatically as the market shakes out during the energy transition,” said Andrew Grant, the head of climate, energy and industry and a co-author of the report.
The key to tackling the looming crisis for populations living in oil-exporting nations would be to understand the scale of the challenge.
“Cushioning the landing for hundreds of millions will deliver better outcomes for both climate and human development,” he added.
An orderly drawdown of fossil fuel production would prevent a hard landing for populations living in producer economies, while quick monetisation of resources and oversupply is likely to destroy value for crude, the report said.
Several Middle Eastern exporters such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia have already set in motion efforts to diversify their rentier economies. The UAE derives revenues from tourism and manufacturing and is looking to generate three quarters of its electricity from clean sources by 2050.
Abu Dhabi also has a substantial renewable energy industry, which has recently pivoted towards the production of hydrogen. The country’s leading industrial and financial players, including the national oil company, formed an alliance earlier this year to manufacture hydrogen.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest exporter of crude, is undertaking plans for a multibillion dollar, carbon-neutral city, as it plans to phase out fossil fuels from its utilities and become an exporter for hydrogen.
Mexico, Iran and Russia are vulnerable and could lose up to a fifth of their revenues.
Angola and Azerbaijan could see a hit to 40 per cent of government income from oil. However, Norway and Malaysia, which have diversified economies, are less exposed to energy transition risks and will face losses of up to 5 to 10 per cent of crude income.Published: February 11, 2021 06:34 PM
Observation of the physical form of Indian cities is the tool employed by Mehrotra to exemplify the clash between two opposing political rhetorics: constructing a global city or one that is equitable and sustainable.
Urban India: negotiating the impatience of global capital
The contemporary urban condition in India symbolises the two simultaneous transitions at play on the political landscape – moving out of socialism and into capitalism, or from state-controlled imaginations of the city to a free-market production of the built environment. In the occurrence of transitions, which are often at play for decades in India, the built environment is naturally a muddle and the fallout from each condition finds expression in the physical form of the Indian city. Ruptures in the fabric and startlingly bizarre adjacencies characterise the city which evolves with these narratives colliding in urban space. The two narratives, or the political rhetoric, then counterposed against each other are of “building a global city”(in other words, pandering to the impatience of global capital) and developing a city premised on nurturing a civil society that is equitable in terms of access to amenities. Clearly, the former is propelled by impatient capital and articulated as an aspiration by private interests, such as multinational corporations, developers and increasingly the Indian State itself! The latter voice emanates from civil society – the academy, the non-government sector, foundations, institutions, labour unions and all other formations where “capital” acquires patience so as to reside and grow in more inclusive ways. ADVERTISING
The physical paraphernalia of these opposing city aspirations is also dramatically different. In the former case, the ground has to be prepared to allow capital to land softly and securely. This results in the deployment of a standard tool kit: airports, freeways, five-star hotels, convention centres and subway or elevated rail systems followed by the preservation of historic buildings (to assert a local identity) and a general clean-up of the streetscape. In this configuration the rich retreat into gated communities both in the form of vertical inner-city towers and sprawling suburban compounds on the peripheries. In reality, in both cases they withdraw from the city and the nitty gritty of its everyday life. The architecture that results from this attitude often displays a complete detachment from its surrounding environment as well as from the place and community in which it sits.
Furthermore, its tectonic quality and materiality is most often unmindful of local resources and building traditions. Such architectural production is usually a quick response to the demand for the large-scale infrastructure projects (e.g. upper-income housing, hospitals, schools, colleges and commercial development) that allow private participation in otherwise largely government-controlled sectors. Most importantly, this form of global architecture thrives on its perceived ability to provide predictable and stable services for impatient capital, searching for a host terrain in which to invest and quickly realise its value. At the same time, the other emerging landscape in India is one that is evolving naturally in a vacuum, the result of a retreating state.
This is a city that has ensued from the state relinquishing the responsibility for projecting an “idea of India” through the built or physical environment. Today, the major state-directed projects are highways, flyovers, airports, telecommunications networks and electricity grids that connect urban territories but they do not help determine or guide their physical structure as masterplans did in the state-directed (Socialist) economy. At the very least, the masterplans sought to create entitlement to housing and proximity to employment. Instead, the “everyday” space has become the place where the economic and cultural struggles of the majority are manifested and the physical shape it adopts is that of a bazaar or informal city! These are the landscapes of the self-help settlements – often referred to as slums – or the peripheries of cities that grow outside the formal state-controlled urban limit. Similarly, the 400-plus small towns in India expected to become cities of close to one million people (and maybe more) in the next two or three decades are actively producing forms of urbanism outside the mainstream discussion on architecture or urban planning.
This emerging landscape is the image of the Indian urban condition. The processions, weddings, festivals, hawkers, street vendors and slum dwellers all create an ever-transforming streetscape – a city in constant motion where its very physical fabric is characterised by the kinetic elements. This city is not dependent on architecture for its representation. In this “kinetic urbanism”, architecture is not the only “spectacle” upon which society relies to express its aspirations nor does it even comprise the single dominant image of most Indian cities. Quite the opposite, with festivals such as Diwali, Dussehra, Navratri, Muharram, Durga Puja, Ganesh Chaturthi and many more having emerged as the visual and representational spectacles of contemporary India. Their presence on the everyday landscape pervades and dominates the popular visual culture of India’s cities and towns.
Set against this imagination is a new landscape of global derivatives or the images of globalisation. It is an irony – that of the collusion of consciously dysfunctional land markets and exclusionary design and planning at multiple scales that has created this strongly contested fabric of contemporary urban India. Interestingly, in this condition both the rich and poor communities have managed not just to survive but to thrive! However, this reality is constantly challenged by the world-class city idea and slum-free city imagination. The government and financial institutions often drive this via a poorly informed appreciation of Singapore, Dubai and Shanghai – the havens of impatient capital set on autocratic political landscapes: cities where “humans” and especially the poor are not even considered in the imagination of the physical setup they will inhabit. In a democracy, citizens must be placed at the centre of any imagination of the city.
A humane and sustainable city must necessarily be premised on access to a basic infrastructure and patterns of mobility that will determine how the city grows and how people have equitable access to these amenities. In democracies, cities must be judged by how they treat their poor. It is really the choice between these two directions – or attitudes to city building – that will be central to the discussion on the future of urban India: a choice between constructing equitable cities or being bullied by impatient capital.Read also: Cities, increasingly global in the future, are the solution to the pandemic
Rahul Mehrotra (New Delhi, 1959) is the founder/ principal of RMA Architects. He divides his time between working in Mumbai and Boston and teaching at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University where he is the Chair of the Urban Planning and Design Department and the John T. Dunlop Professor in Housing and Urbanization. His most recent book is Working in Mumbai (2020), a reflection on his practice as an architect and urbanist, evolved via association with the city of Bombay/Mumbai.
Opening image: Peter Bialobrzeski, Mumbai 2017, images taken from the book No Buddha in Suburbia, Hartmann Books, 2019 .
Paradox lost: wetlands can form in deserts, but we need to find and protect them
Once dismissed as dank and bug-infested backwaters – good only for draining and destroying to make farmland – the world’s wetlands may finally be having their moment in the sun. In the UK, the government is expected to nominate a vast expanse of blanket bogs in the far north of Scotland as a world heritage site. They might not sound attractive to some people, but these bogs are among the world’s biggest stores of carbon, they provide abundant freshwater and they harbour a miraculous array of wildlife.
This recognition that wetlands are worth protecting has its roots in an agreement signed 50 years ago, on February 2 1971 in Ramsar, Iran. The Ramsar Convention is the only international convention that’s dedicated to protecting a specific ecosystem, though in reality, the “wetlands” that the convention refers to can mean anything from swamps and peat bogs to shallow lakes and estuaries.
So far, 171 countries have signed up to the convention and more than 2,400 sites are protected under it, representing between 10% and 20% of the world’s remaining wetlands and collectively covering an area larger than Mexico. Under the convention, governments are committed to the “wise use” and upkeep of wetlands in their borders, but this doesn’t necessarily keep them safe. Nearly 90% of the world’s wetlands have been lost since 1700, and those which remain are being lost at a rate that’s three times faster than forests.
From agricultural expansion and river diversion to invasive species and climate change, wetlands face numerous threats. But one of the gravest may be ignorance. We still don’t know enough about these habitats, and they can still surprise even seasoned scientists like us. Perhaps most surprising of all are those wetlands that seem to confound all logic by thriving amid some of the driest places on Earth.
Boom and bust amid the dust
Drylands are regions of the world where more water evaporates than falls from the sky. Warm drylands cover about 40% of the Earth’s surface, but about 28% of this area overlaps with inland rivers and wetlands. The result is marshes, swamps, floodplains, and oases in a landscape where water is otherwise scarce.
Wetlands are especially important in dry landscapes, as they can be the only supply of freshwater and food for people and wildlife for miles around. Some wetlands in drylands are famous. Iraq’s Mesopotamian Marshes (largely believed to be the inspiration for the Garden of Eden) and the Nile River floodplain are both largely surrounded by desert, but it’s here in these Middle Eastern wetlands where modern human civilisation emerged.
For every famous example, there are thousands that remain unidentified and unmapped. That’s partly because these unique habitats change frequently, sometimes vanishing completely before eventually reappearing. Seasonal downpours can sustain these green patches for a while if the soil doesn’t drain well and is particularly good at holding onto the water. Other wetlands in drylands are more permanent thanks to a source of water below ground, with enough seeping to the surface to maintain damp conditions. But some wetlands can lie dormant until they’re reawakened by river flooding and suddenly erupt in vibrant shades of green.
Many wetlands in drylands are small and temporary, only hosting a thriving ecosystem for a few months following good rains that may occur years or even decades apart. Depending on the scale and their timing, scientific surveys may miss these hidden treasures. The boom-and-bust wetlands that are adapted to emerge following occasional pulses of water are so understudied that we’re in danger of losing them before we even realise their presence and understand their full value.
All wetlands are prone to change over time. Sometimes rivers change their course and switch where floodwaters, sediment and nutrients end up. Older wetlands dry up, while newer ones develop. These changes create a mosaic of different landforms with different grades of wetness and soil types, helping to create a wide range of habitats that support an equally vast range of wildlife. Understanding the processes that give rise to these wetlands can help us maintain them, but the first step must be debunking the idea that such habitats are static, unchanging features of the landscape.
Despite some limitations, the Ramsar Convention remains one of the best mechanisms for protecting and highlighting the value of wetlands, even if many still go under the radar. Though there are signs of change. India recently added a complex of shallow lakes high up in a dry mountain to the Ramsar list. Numerous threatened species may benefit from this habitat, including the vulnerable snow leopard. Hopefully, other countries will follow suit and recognise more of these rare and beautiful places before it’s too late.
Africa climate change report reveals heat rising north and south, the Sahel getting wetter per Willem Van Cotthem, University of Ghent, Belgium in today’s Desertification blog.
Africa needs to prepare better for climate change by responding to a wide range of potential risks, a multi-agency report led by the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Monday, the first in a series of continent-by-continent assessments.
“In recent months we have seen devastating floods, an invasion of desert locusts and now face the looming spectre of drought because of a La Niña event. The human and economic toll has been aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement.
Filling the gap
The report aims to fill a gap in reliable and timely climate information for Africa, which translates into a lack of climate-related development planning, said Vera Songwe, Under-Secretary-General, and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).
Africa has been warming progressively since the start of the last century, and in the next five years, northern and southern Africa are set to get drier and hotter, while the Sahel region of Western Africa will get wetter, WMO’s Regional Strategic Office Director, Filipe Lucio, told a press conference.
“Overall, Africa needs to take action. Action is needed today in terms of adaptation, but also is needed tomorrow in terms of mitigation”, Lucio said.
The agricultural sector is key to building climate resistance, since it is the dominant employer and it relies on the use of water and energy – both heavily implicated in climate change, he said.
Northern and southern areas under threat of aridity and desertification would benefit from reforestation, which helps to prevent water runoff and creates vegetation which supports the hydrological cycle.
Policy changes are also recommended in transport, energy, infrastructure and industry. Financing has improved with the establishment of a UN-backed Green Climate Fund but there are still limitations in terms of the continent’s ability to tap into such funds, he added.
Climate change has contributed to a jump in food insecurity, mosquito-borne disease and mass displacement in the past decade, and the rise in sea levels has led to unusual weather patterns such as Tropical Cyclone Idai, which hit Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe in 2019.
It showed the need for communities to learn about the risks and for impact-based warnings about the appropriate actions to take.
A day after the cyclone made landfall, it appeared to have dissipated and people thought the worst was over. But then disaster struck when flooding followed, overwhelming Mozambique’s major port city of Beira, Lucio said.
“People were asked to find refuge in appropriate places but the city of Beira was never built to withstand a category-5 tropical cyclone. So that means the building codes need to be changed, but the building codes cannot be changed using what tropical cyclones used to be like in the past.
“They need to have forward-looking analysis to anticipate the trends into the future and start designing infrastructure and other systems taking into account the changing nature of these tropical cyclones.”
Author, Willem Van Cotthem is Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.
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