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How to avert a global climate catastrophe

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At a time where political momentum is growing everywhere in the world to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050, how to avert a global climate catastrophe by Omar Razzaz from Amman tells us the following.

How to avert a global climate catastrophe

• Current global efforts to raise awareness and nudge and shame policymakers are necessary but not sufficient to prevent an existential climate crisis. Addressing the problem more effectively requires international governance arrangements that amount to a new social contract on global public goods

Dead Sea shore, Jordan. (Pixabay)




The hottest day on record in Jordan since 1960 was a staggering 49.3C, (120.7F) in July 2018, one month after I became prime minister. Jordan is not unique: heatwaves have been causing record-high temperatures in countries from Canada to Australia in recent years. The effects of climate change (including increased frequency and severity of floods, hurricanes, and droughts), while felt locally, demand a global response, which should set binding targets that take into account countries’ contributions to the problem and to the solution.

Jordan has been actively pursuing policies and programmes to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Over the past 15 years, Jordan’s annual emissions per capita fell from 3.5 tonnes to 2.5 tonnes. But Jordan, like the vast majority of countries, accounts for a negligible share of global CO2 emissions  – just 0.04% annually. So even if Jordan was to turn its whole economy green overnight, it would hardly make a dent. This does not absolve us of responsibility, but we cannot overlook the fact that emissions are concentrated: the top 20 emitters account for almost 80% of the annual total, with the United States and China alone accounting for 38%.
In many countries, the ramifications of climate change for water supply have been staggering. In the case of Jordan, it made an already tight constraint much more acute. Rainfall was previously the saviour for rural communities that engaged in seasonal rainfed agriculture and herding on semi-arid land. Over the last decade, however, a steady decline in average annual rainfall and an increase in the frequency and severity of droughts have undermined these modes of agriculture, deepening the socioeconomic divide between rural and urban areas.

Jordan is by no means unique: the World Health Organisation estimates that half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas by 2025. In essence, what was previously a regional challenge has now become a serious global governance issue with environmental, political, and economic ramifications.
More broadly, other manifestations of climate change, and the lack of an internationally coordinated response to them – not to mention to additional threats such as the Covid-19 pandemic – suggest that something is seriously wrong at the global level. According to the recent sober assessment by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world will not meet the 2015 Paris climate agreement goal of limiting global warming to well below 2C unless it makes huge additional cuts in CO2 emissions.

Quite simply, the results of the world’s climate efforts are dangerously inadequate. According to the Climate Action Tracker, current policies put the world on course to be an alarming 2.7-3.1C warmer by 2100, relative to pre-industrial levels. Yes, many emerging green technologies are promising and should be supported. But in the absence of a global approach, these innovations risk merely redistributing the impact of climate change among countries and regions.
Raising awareness and nudging (and shaming) policymakers is necessary, but not sufficient to avert what UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has referred to as a “climate catastrophe.” Climate-change mitigation must be pursued as a global public good. The problem is that such goods are plagued by collective-action problems because the costs tend to be spatially and temporally concentrated while the benefits are diffuse. These difficulties can be tackled only by global governance structures that reduce the cost of collective action, internalise externalities, and counter short-term biases in decision-making.
To address climate change more effectively, we need global governance arrangements that amount to a new global social contract. Existing international governance structures can serve as a foundation for these new institutions, but will need to be amended and supplemented to address specific problems related to public goods and collective action.
For starters, we need a governance structure whose jurisdiction is limited to global public goods that cannot be provided adequately at the national level. Nation-states would be free to opt-in and opt-out, with the benefits of opting in outweighing those of opting out. Decisions would be taken on a majoritarian basis, with no single country having veto power. There would also be appeals and adjudication process that allows decisions to be challenged.
Second, a custodial entity would keep track of global natural wealth accounts to address intergenerational equity issues. This entity should be able to place items on the global governance institution’s agenda and to appeal decisions.
Lastly, a regime of incentives and disincentives would aim to preserve nature and biodiversity and tax those who consume it, taking wealth and income disparities across countries into account.
Establishing global governance mechanisms that focus on the public goods and collective-action challenges of climate change will not be easy. Concerns and fears related to a “democratic deficit” and the need to protect national sovereignty are legitimate, and cannot simply be brushed aside.
Nevertheless, we are not starting from scratch. The World Trade Organisation provides an example of a strong and successful global governance structure with binding rules. It is thus both ironic and sad that the WTO has failed to incorporate trade-related environmental and human-rights issues into its regulations in order to ensure a level international playing field. After all, with its sanctioning authority, the WTO is best positioned to link issues such as greenhouse-gas emissions and labour rights to trade rules.

Jordan cannot successfully tackle today’s global climate challenges on its own. Nor can the Middle East, owing to regional conflicts and rivalries. Now that the world has become a village, the task facing the region is instead to agree with other countries – our fellow villagers – on how to mitigate our own excesses and avert an existential threat. This can be achieved only by finding suitable ways to hold ourselves and each other accountable. The solution lies in establishing a global governance system that is based on the nation-state but has the capacity to sanction harmful behaviour.
Some might regard the idea of creating such a structure as far-fetched. But unless we do, there is scant hope of preventing the climate crisis – already apparent in Jordan and around the world – from continuing to destroy countless lives and livelihoods. – Project Syndicate

• Omar Razzaz is a former prime minister of Jordan.

“New Normal” brings Digital Transformation in the Built Environment

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Construction Week of September 8, 2021, shows us how the “new normal” brings digital transformation in the built environment in an article by Mina Vucic. It is no more than a step however small but lucrative and most importantly in the right direction. Here is how it is.

How the “new normal” brings digital transformation in the built environmentan article

Asite speaks on changing the ways in which cities operate by “using technology to enhance collaboration through data sharing”.

Middle East cities have been leading the way in smart city development, acting as pioneers in implementing innovative, sustainable, and integrated solutions to become greener, more efficient, and better places to live. 

Disruption and innovation have changed the way specialists think and operate across sectors, particularly in the past year as the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed most industries out of their comfort zone and into digitally-enabled environments.

Nathan Doughty, CEO of Asite Solutions, commented on the topic at the BIM Middle East 2021 Conference & Expo, held on 6 and 7 September at the Crowne Plaza Dubai hotel.

Doughty said that in order to effectively drive the digital transformation of cities, the industry should focus on enhancing the precision of structural data.

He added: “The number one method we should be prioritising in order to achieve our goals at corporate, governmental, and global levels is using technology to enhance collaboration through data sharing.”

Some of the examples Doughty shared in the real world include COVID-19 track and trace systems, satellite-based navigation, social media in smart cities, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and most importantly off-site construction and BIM.

Placing his focus on the modern construction methods Doughty emphasised: “In order to retrofit and repurpose the assets we must focus on creating energy-efficient buildings, decarbonise the built environment, and improve digital infrastructure’s operational efficiency.”

According to Asite’s CEO, one of the key methods to achieve those goals is to drive the circular economy, designing out pollution, keeping materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.

Doughty added: “We must emphasise the use of digital technologies on smart buildings, embedding sensors, gathering data, and analysing the information received to make informed decisions.”

Although the pandemic has challenged the traditional methods of construction, many organisations are now adopting BIM in the industry, providing a platform of know-how that can be built on for future technologies and more sustainable cities.

Global Sand and Gravel Extraction Conflicts with the UN’s SDGs

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Global Sand and Gravel Extraction Conflicts with Half of UN Sustainable Development Goals by Eurasia Review of , is an eye-opener at this conjecture of these ingredients that we take for granted in all our developments.
Sand and aggregates together with water form the backbone of the modern world but increasing urbanisation due to a growing global population has led to a spiralling rise in their extraction, with serious environmental, political and social consequences.

The above image is for illustrative purposes and is of EcoWatch.

A view of ‘The World Island’ development seen from the air in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Credit: Chris Jackson/Getty Images.

Global Sand And Gravel Extraction Conflicts With Half Of UN Sustainable Development Goals

Sand and gravel are the most mined materials in the world, with between 32 and 50 billion tonnes extracted globally each year. They are being extracted faster than they can be replaced. But according to a new study led by researchers at McGill University and the University of Copenhagen, the human and environmental costs of this extraction on lower and middle-income countries have been largely overlooked.

“With this work we’re able to show that in low- and middle-income countries, sand industry is in direct conflict with almost half of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals,” said Mette Bendixen an assistant professor in the department of Geography at McGill University and one of the lead authors of the work, which was published recently in One Earth. “The impact that sand and gravel mining have on the environment, conflicts with goals linked to the natural dynamics of ecosystems. Furthermore, pollution, health-related issues and the informal nature of many mining activities creates societal inequalities negatively affecting small scale miners and their families.”

Increasing demand and market prices are leading to unsustainable exploitation, planning and trade. Removal of sand from rivers and beaches has far-reaching impacts on ecology, infrastructure, national economies, and the livelihoods of the 3 billion people who live along the worlds’ river corridors. Unregulated sand mining has been documented in 70 countries across the globe, with associated conflicts related to ecological destruction, livelihood disruption and labour rights violations. Battles over sand have reportedly killed hundreds in recent years, including local citizens, police officers and government officials.

Opportunity as well as destruction

But the researchers also suggest that, if it is well managed, the mining of these resources also potentially offers certain opportunities to meet some of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They also point out that these resources have the potential to help drive socio-economic development to advance some of the UN’s SDGs, such as eliminating poverty. For example, sand and gravel provide labour for millions of people, they supply material for the renewable energy sector and for roads and infrastructure in general.

“Sand resources, when managed appropriately, can create jobs, develop skills usable in other sectors of the economy and spur innovation and investment, whilst continuing to underpin the infrastructure upon which modern society is founded.” argues Lars L. Iversen, an assistant professor at the University of Copenhagen’s Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate research who was a lead author in the study. “Therefore, the solution is not to simply ban all mining activities. Finding the balance between the pros and cons of sand and gravel extraction is becoming one of the great resource challenges of our century.”

We need to build effective management plans and policies for sand resources that support the global sustainable development goals,” says Mette Bendixen “In order to do so a more complete understanding of the impact of sand and gravel mining is required. This need is especially acute for many countries in low- and middle- income regions that currently possess no overview of the extent of local mining activities, or how such activities are impacting ecosystems and local communities.”

Quick facts

  • A large proportion of the increase in aggregate (a collective term for sand, gravel, and crushed stone) consumption has occurred in BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) countries.
     
  • For cement alone, a proxy for aggregate usage, China’s demand has increased exponentially by 438% over the past 20 years, compared with an increase of 60% in the rest of the world.
     
  • While current global aggregate consumption of 32-50 billion tonnes per year is dominated by consumption from high (per capita) production sources in North America and China, the greatest relative increase in production is projected to occur in LMICs (lower and middle-income countries).
     
  • Aggregate mining in LMICs is often executed informally by artisanal small-scale miners providing an essential source of livelihood for many people worldwide.
     
  • Violence can also increase alongside mining. In India, the mining of sand, in particular, has been associated with local conflict linked to water access and pollution.

Sustainable living space in a world of limits: a need for dialogue

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EURACTIV Media network post by Doris FuchsNils BlosseyPia Mamut and Sylvia Lorek on the need for dialogue about agreeing to a Sustainable living space in a world of limits, should not come as a surprise. Let us go through it and then see if it were as realistic as it should be.

Challenges to ecological and social sustainability require us to integrate limits to resource consumption into all areas, including residential space, write Doris Fuchs, Sylvia Lorek, Pia Mamut and Nils Blossey.

Doris Fuchs is a German political scientist and professor of international relations and sustainable development at the University of Münster, Chair of International Relations and Sustainable Development. She authored this opinion piece together with researchers Sylvia Lorek, Pia Mamut, and Nils Blossey.

Multiple socio-ecological crises challenge our societies to reconfigure patterns of resource consumption. As we are increasingly approaching the exhaustion of planetary boundaries, sustainability and a societal dialogue about how to achieve it need to be introduced to all spheres of human life.

Next to nutrition and mobility, housing is the major driver of greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to switching to renewable energies and energy-saving refurbishment measures, recent studies suggest that also limits to residential space might be required to sufficiently reduce energy consumption.

Importantly, the introduction of such measures does not pursue an introduction of lower standards of living, but rather careful planning and inclusive political processes to ascertain what sustainable living spaces that take account of social minima and ecological maxima can look like.

Clearly, humans need to be endowed with a minimum amount of material resources and space to be capable of attaining physical and psychological wellbeing – for many people especially in the Global South this would correspond to more, rather than less space and resources.

Thus, scholars and practitioners have outlined a range of minimum space standards for basic needs satisfaction regarding housing, which are partially based on context-specific parameters in terms of location and building.

Rao and Min, for instance, define a household space of 30m2 for up to three inhabitants and an additional minimum of 10m2 per each further person as a minimum threshold to provide decent living conditions.

The NYC Building Code, in turn, identifies as a standard that at least one room in a dwelling unit must have a size of 13,9 to 20m2, for example. Societal minima for living space may also vary depending on cultural and regional contexts.

Finally, discussions of minimum housing requirements are also driven by rising real estate prices and rents as well as shrinking space in metropolitan areas.

On the other end of the spectrum, the average size of residential homes in advanced economies has generally increased despite declining household size. As home size increases, so does the associated consumption of energy and other resources.

From a perspective of planetary boundaries, therefore, it becomes clear that we also need to engage in a societal dialogue about consumption maxima with respect to residential space.

In this vein, recent studies have calculated how much space an individual could use from a one-planet-perspective and assuming intra- and intergenerational justice. In such calculations, Lettenmeier arrives at an estimated target of 20m2 of residential space per capita.

Grubler et al. attribute more potential to improvements in energy efficiency and arrive at an estimate of 30m2 per capita (in 2050), which equals the present average in the Global North. For a family of four, then, estimates of residential space beyond which ecological boundaries are endangered range between 80-120m2.

Thinking about both social minima and ecological maxima is important for the future wellbeing of humans on this planet. Indeed, they belong together, as the concept of consumption corridors delineates.

However, whereas social minimum standards for housing easily evoke broad approval, thinking about upper limits to residential space is considerably more challenging. Maxima to residential space inevitably lead to conflicts of interest between members of society, which need to be balanced out in democratic processes.

Importantly, such upper (and even lower) limits should therefore not be envisioned as being based solely on scientific estimates and top-down enforcement. On the contrary, broad societal dialogue is necessary to generate an improved understanding of social and ecological conditions and needs, conflicts between them, and options for their joint pursuit.

Moreover, policies supporting the availability of adequate and affordable housing and addressing rising structural inequalities in the housing market need to be implemented alongside any focus on consumption minima and maxima with respect to residential space.

In addition, appropriate infrastructural measures need to ensure that potential contributions to one-planet lifestyles, which may result from current trends towards co-living, smaller home sizes, and cooperative house ownership can be realised.

Challenges to ecological and social sustainability require us to make complex decisions and to integrate limits to resource consumption into our practices and policies across consumption fields. We need to openly discuss social minima and ecological maxima with respect to residential space – just as in any other consumption field.

The Built Environment must accelerate Decarbonisation

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A Workplace Insight piece of News stating that the built environment must accelerate decarbonisation to support net-zero goal by Jayne Smith comes yet again as another reiteration of the need for the vital continuation of the urban Environment life as we know it till now. Or an improvement on the existing one.
Before the generalisation of the increasingly dominant urban environment throughout the world, building a future for our grandchildren based on clean and renewable energy is not a dream but the goodwill of political leaders if left alone from capitalistic predation. And, it is the sine-qua-non condition to save the earth by agreeing with its natural ecosystems.

Built environment must accelerate decarbonisation to support net zero goal

While the built environment is going in the right direction, it is still not moving fast enough to decarbonise building stock, according to the latest annual sustainability report produced by RICS and World Built Environment Forum.

The 2021 report, which collates sentiment from over 4000 contributors to the RICS Global Commercial Property Monitor and the RICS Global Construction Monitor, highlights a greater appetite for greener buildings and more sustainable projects but not at a fast enough pace to help reach global net-zero targets.

In 2021, over 40 percent of respondents identify client, stakeholder and customer demand as one of the main driving forces behind the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investment boom. Indeed, a net balance of +55 percent more respondents to the survey pointed to an increase in occupier and investor appetite for green and sustainable buildings in the past year, with only 6 percent of respondents reporting a fall in demand for such assets in spite of the challenges posed by Covid.

Other factors influencing the change include increased greater awareness of ESG risks and opportunities and brand image and reputation.

As demand for greener assets grows, there seems to be some evidence to suggest that enhancing the sustainability attributes of a building can command a rent premium. Half of respondents believe green can charge higher rents compared with non-green buildings. For those buildings that aren’t green or sustainable, 30 percent of respondents cited that these buildings are given a ‘brown discount’ – discounted rents to compensate for not being sustainable.

But more can be done. Whilst 40 percent of respondents have seen an increase in the number of green leases – landlord and tenant arrangements that encourage or even contractually dictate that there are standards around sustainability, the majority of contributors have yet to see green leases become a dominant feature of the market.

Construction

Looking at the construction sector, two-thirds of respondents say that the top priority for the sector to become more sustainable is through minimising waste, and around half of respondents see more resilient construction products, materials and components as a principal concern. Despite 55 percent of respondents reporting an increase in demand for recycled and reusable materials in the past year, 43 percent have yet to see a change.

With the construction sector responsible for around 40 percent of carbon each year, and to aid reducing the sector’s carbon output respondents were asked about their operational and embodied carbon measurement practices.

Critically, 70 percent replied that there is no operational carbon measurement taking place in the lifecycle of their projects. Also, more than half of the respondents say that they don’t measure embodied carbon and for those that do, less than 14 percent use it to select the materials they use in their project.

As the impact of climate change intensifies, companies are looking for solutions, such as International Construction Management Standards. Around 18 percent of respondents did say that if there was a standardised approach for measuring their carbon, they would use it, with the greatest appetite (over 30 percent) being seen in New Zealand, Singapore, and Philippines.

“More occupiers and investors look for buildings that contribute to reducing their carbon footprint.”

Simon Rubinsohn, RICS Chief Economist, commented: “As countries strive to achieve net-zero, the rising awareness in how integral ESG goals are to our future is coming through in our survey, as more occupiers and investors look for buildings that contribute to reducing their carbon footprint.

“The data also shows the impact this demand is having on rents and lease terms with encouraging statistics coming through about how green buildings are achieving higher returns.

“Construction firms, who are at the forefront of dealing with some of the major consequences of climate change, still believe more can be done to achieve net-zero. It is clear from the feedback that respondents have a willingness to improve but currently only a third of respondents are measuring their operational carbon output. As material prices rise across the globe, and building supplies become scarcer firms are looking for new solutions that will help make a measurable impact when it comes to tackling climate change.”

Image by Free-Photos