Why smarter surfaces, not air conditioning, is the answer

Why smarter surfaces, not air conditioning, is the answer

For much of the MENA region, “living” means putting up with the prevailing oppressive climate with air-conditioned (A/C) machinery.  The use of A/C, however, contributed and many including the United Nations warned of climate change-induced heat waves worsening the ambient air.   From the Mediterranean shores to Baghdad through to all GCC, the region is right now undergoing a maximum Degrees Centigrade.  All houses, offices and others are equipped with individual and/or collective cooling systems.   Global Construction Review article by Greg Kats, Ian Riley and Manon Burbidge on why smarter surfaces and no air conditioning are the answer for their scorching cities.  The above-featured image is credit to iStock.

Why smarter surfaces, not air conditioning, is the answer for our scorching cities


Why smarter surfaces, not air conditioning, is the answer Air conditioners in Kuala Lumpur. We need more reflective surfaces because air conditioners create a vicious energy consumption spiral, says the Smart Surfaces Coalition (Tinou Bao/CC BY 2.0)
Air conditioners in Kuala Lumpur. We need more reflective surfaces because air conditioners create a vicious energy consumption spiral, says the Smart Surfaces Coalition (Tinou Bao/CC BY 2.0)
Following another year of record-breaking temperatures, droughts and heatwaves across the world in 2021, it is time to look again at our options to manage summer heat, particularly in towns and cities, which suffer from the Urban Heat Island effect.

This occurs when darkly-paved roads, car parks and dark roofs absorb solar radiation and release it back as heat, instead of reflecting it back into the atmosphere, along with waste heat from buildings. It can lead to temperature differences between urban and rural areas of as much as 6-12ºC, particularly at night.

High summer temperatures are not only uncomfortable, but also lead to excess mortality, particularly among vulnerable groups, including the elderly, and those with disabilities and underlying health conditions.

Governments and people look to air conditioning to cool down but in the long-term, reliance on private AC for urban cooling would cost the planet dearly.

Owing to climate change-induced temperature increases, by 2050, the number of air conditioners globally is projected to grow from 1.6 billion to 5.6 billion. This would result in additional emissions, created by excess energy demand, that could add 0.5ºC of global warming, pushing the Paris Agreement target of 1.5ºC maximum beyond our reach.

Many air conditioners are cheap and inefficient window-mounted units. Studies of cities ranging from Phoenix to Tokyo show that large increases in these types of air conditioners can add as much as 1ºC to outdoor heat. This creates a feedback loop; if the outdoor temperature becomes hotter, air conditioners are needed for longer, thus increasing the outdoor temperature, and so on.

When air conditioners are stacked one above each other, floor after floor up the sides of buildings, they heat up the intake air of the AC units above, making them less efficient.

Worse, the AC units may not work when we need them most: electric grids are most likely to break down during peak use periods, and for most of the world this is determined by AC usage during the hottest days, when people are at greatest risk of heat-related deaths.

The strategy of indefinitely expanding air conditioning to cool buildings and people in warming cities will simply not work in the medium- and long-term.

So, what is the alternative to ever more air conditioners? One option is to cool the city and its neighbourhoods by altering the urban fabric itself.

“Smart surfaces” are defined by the Smart Surfaces Coalition (SSC) as any surface that better manages sunlight and rainfall than dark, impervious surfaces. They include reflective, porous and green surfaces that, if installed in combination with increasing tree and solar PV coverage in urban environments, can work to decrease the impact of heat in built-up areas.

Regular concrete has higher reflectivity than asphalt, shingles or slate, the most common roads and roofing surfaces. It can be increased by using lighter coloured materials in the concrete mix.

The material with the biggest impact is sand, which is much more visible in the surface of concrete than the typical aggregates used. In addition, urban vegetation, in the form of parks and green spaces, can, in combination with broad application of highly reflective surfaces, cool surrounding areas by as much as 5ºC.

The SSC’s coalition of leading health, planning, architecture, city policy, energy, affordable housing, energy and other organizations is dedicated to supporting expanded adoption of smart surfaces globally. Prior studies of potential city-wide smart surfaces adoption by Baltimore, El Paso, Philadelphia and Washington DC demonstrated smart surfaces to be a cost-effective, city-wide strategy to address climate change mitigation and adaptation that would also improve equity and create jobs.

The SSC’s study of Baltimore modelled 12 measures, ranging from planting more trees to making roof and car park surfaces porous and more reflective with lighter-coloured materials. This included the use of low and even negative carbon concretes, which are important shared objectives of the World Cement Association and the smart surfaces Coalition. According to this study, by 2050, adoption of a select set of smart surfaces could cool greater Baltimore by 1.7ºC and downtown Baltimore by 2.4ºC.

Additionally, the benefits to health, employment, tourism and lower energy bills are ten times larger than the costs: the net present value to Baltimore over 30 years could be as much as $20,000 per person.

The study also revealed that the greatest decreases in temperature could be achieved by putting smart surfaces in lower-income neighbourhoods, which are typically less green and built with more dark, impervious materials. Residents here are much more likely to live in inefficient buildings and disproportionately suffer from respiratory and other health problems.

While energy costs make up about 1% of total income for the highest-income renters in the USA, among the lowest-income renters, tenant-paid household energy costs are approximately 15% of income. This inequality has broad income, health, quality of life, and cost impacts. Smart surfaces, such as reflective roofs and trees, can cut these energy bills by up to a third.

It is clear that a cleaner and more effective solution than air conditioners is needed to ensure that our towns and cities remain habitable and safe in the face of global climate change. Implementing smart surfaces, in the form of urban greening and reflective surfaces can make a tangible difference to communities, particularly those who are already vulnerable to extreme heat.

  • Greg Kats is founder and CEO of the Smart Surfaces Coalition; Ian Riley is CEO of the World Cement Association; Manon Burbidge is policy and communications manager at the World Cement Association.
Bahrain deploys e-paper displays to increase sustainability

Bahrain deploys e-paper displays to increase sustainability

How a new generation of entrepreneurs is tackling the world’s biggest challenges

How a new generation of entrepreneurs is tackling the world’s biggest challenges

How a new generation of entrepreneurs is tackling the world’s biggest challenges head on could not be a better story to illustrate the current goings-on amongst all and above all the doers in this world of today.  It is by the World Economic Forum.  Here it is.

How a new generation of entrepreneurs is tackling the world’s biggest challenges head on

How a new generation of entrepreneurs is tackling the world’s biggest challenges

  • From the climate crisis to the destruction of natural ecosystems, the world faces an unprecedented set of interconnected challenges.
  • Innovative entrepreneurs are building businesses that protect and restore the planet and everything that lives on it.
  • UpLink is helping over 260 entrepreneurs find the resources, experts and funding they need to take their promising solutions to the next level.

The impact driven by innovative entrepreneurs

From drones that detect illegal fishing and robots that sort plastic waste, to sustainable solutions for the world’s forests and remote learning tools for students struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic – these are just some ways entrepreneurs are using their creative energy to tackle issues within their communities and beyond.

The World Economic Forum created UpLink, an open innovation platform launched in partnership with Salesforce and Deloitte, to unlock an entrepreneur revolution and support positive systemic change for people and planet. Its mission is to create the necessary bridges to the expert help that entrepreneurs need to take their innovations to the next level.

Since its launch in January 2020, UpLink has identified over 260 individuals with highly promising solutions and is working to support their growth through visibility, access and introductions that allow them to scale their businesses. These entrepreneurs are already achieving tremendous impact and, in 2021-2022, they were able to collectively secure more than $942 million in funding to support their activities.

UpLink’s 2021-2022 Impact Report highlights how Top Innovators are addressing issues spanning the environment, economy and society, including protecting or actively managing some 10 million hectares of natural habitat and restoring over 812,000 hectares. They have provided 16.4 million people with access to essential health services and ensured 1.87 million people have gained access to basic sanitation. Additionally, they have successfully educated or trained 5.5 million people and ensured more than 25 million people benefited from greater market access.

“We must ignite an ecopreneur revolution, which is why I’m so excited about UpLink.”

— Marc Benioff, Co-Chief Executive Officer of Salesforce

Which challenges are entrepreneurs facing today?

The world faces an unprecedented set of global issues. From the climate crisis and the destruction of natural ecosystems to the COVID-19 pandemic and rampant income inequality, there is a critical need to advance the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

Yet, there are a number of entrepreneurial solutions that can already accelerate the SDGs. Indeed, as US Climate Envoy John Kerry recently said, almost half of the emissions cuts needed to achieve net-zero will come from early-stage solutions and future technologies.

But for many of these entrepreneurs, finding the mentorship, resources and – crucially – funding they need to scale their operations, expand their teams and widen their impact is often beyond their reach, especially for those operating in developing economies.

Unleashing the creative energy of the world’s brightest entrepreneurs is essential and it is crucial to build a collaborative framework around them that can support their innovations and help them thrive.

“Problems and issues that we face as a global community cannot be solved by individual entities or governments. We have to collectively address these issues.”

— Punit Renjen, Chief Executive Officer, Deloitte

Our approach to collaborating with entrepreneurs.

UpLink Since its launch, UpLink has been dedicated to creating this collaborative environment for the world’s entrepreneurs.

The platform is building a digital space where investors, experts and other organizations can work together to elevate and support innovations.

This innovation ecosystem is enabled by:

  • An open digital platform, which sources entrepreneurs from all over the world through innovation challenges in a range of critical areas, including nature, the ocean, plastics, climate change, the circular economy, water, health and education – with many more to come. These are designed and run in collaboration with a diverse set of partners across the public and private sectors, including Accenture, HCL, IKEA Foundation, Friends of Ocean Action, Nestlé, UNICEF, and the World Health Organization.
  • The convening and amplification power of the Forum, which offers increased access to events, initiatives, multi-stakeholder communities and funding opportunities for innovators.

Over the last two years, 46,000 users have joined the UpLink platform and entrepreneurs have submitted 3,500 solutions via 34 innovation challenges. The community has recognized 265 Top Innovators in four categories who are now receiving support to grow their companies.

“Initiatives shouldn’t just come from enlightened business leaders or governments. We have to engage people. They have ideas. We have to give them the means to translate their ideas into action.”

— World Economic Forum Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab.

How can you get involved?

We invite visionary leaders, organizations, businesses, governments and philanthropists to join UpLink in driving the entrepreneur revolution. Through UpLink, we are accelerating progress on the SDGs by sourcing and scaling innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing issues, raising awareness for key sustainability issues and unlocking funding opportunities.

New postgraduate degree to put Paris Agreement into action

New postgraduate degree to put Paris Agreement into action

New postgraduate degree to put Paris Agreement into action

Plans are advancing at speed to create a new postgraduate degree specialising on the Paris Agreement on climate change in a bid to develop future leaders able to tackle the challenges of sustainability and advance transformative climate action, the UNESCO World Higher Education Conference (WHEC2022) in Barcelona, Spain, heard.
World Higher Education Conference 2022.
This conference is convened by UNESCO and University World News is the exclusive media partner.

Professor Shinobu Yume Yamaguchi, director of the United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS) in Tokyo, Japan, outlined the aims when opening the session at WHEC2022 on how higher education can accelerate climate action under the Paris Agreement.

She described the UNU-IAS, which she assumed leadership of in 2019, as a bridge between UN agencies and higher education, and told delegates to the Barcelona conference that work was progressing well on launching a new postgraduate degree on the Paris Agreement and climate sustainability, which was first mooted at COP26 (the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference) in Glasgow.

First of its kind

“The degree will be the first of its kind in the world and the goal is to provide the skills needed across the world to teach action… to implement the Paris Agreement through higher education.”

Professor Yamaguchi said: “Our UNU institute in Tokyo is dedicated to realising a sustainable future for the people and our planet through policy-orientated research, education and capacity development focusing on sustainability, including looking at climate change and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.”

The new postgraduate degree specialisation on the Paris Agreement on climate change is being developed in close collaboration with governments, leading universities and development partners and builds on an existing MSc in Sustainability and a PhD in Sustainability Science offered by UNU-IAS.

Together these two programmes currently have 38 students from 20 developing countries, with scholarships provided to over half of the students.

Develop future climate action leaders

“We are aiming to develop future leaders who will be at the forefront of the climate and sustainable development agenda,” said Yamaguchi, who announced that applications for the new Paris Agreement postgraduate degree will be invited at the end of 2022 and the programme will start in September 2023.

COP26 in Glasgow called on the world to keep the global increase in temperatures to 1.5°C compared to the pre-industrial level, but to implement the measures requires a huge amount of knowledge and government cannot do everything, she said.

“You need large stakeholder coalitions to tackle issues such as phasing out coal and all parties acknowledge the importance of education about environment,” said Yamaguchi.

Transparency a key issue

Transparency, monitoring and accountability are going to be key issues for governments and businesses in meeting the Paris Agreement goals and higher education will play a key role, so people understand climate science.

“We need to develop dynamic training for experts, and coordination across sectors and institutions to collect and share data… and lack of coordination is a problem in many countries,” Yamaguchi told the conference.

Dr Won Jung Byun, programme specialist at UNESCO’s Section of Education for Sustainable Development, welcomed the new qualification from the United Nations University and told the conference that only half of national curricula worldwide mention climate change and fewer than 20% of teachers are able to explain action needed to tackle climate change.

Education systems around the world need to do much more to provide learners with the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to overcome the climate crisis and sustainability challenges, she said.

Can’t just be left to higher education

But it can’t just be left to higher education, speakers at the session at the UNESCO conference stressed.

Laurent Cortese, deputy head of the Education-Vocational Training-Employment and Higher Education Division of the French Agency for Development, which mainly works in education and development in countries in Africa, said: “If we leave it to higher education, it is too late. We need a holistic approach and to work on environmental and climate issues with the rest of the education system.”

Teacher training is part of higher education in many countries, he pointed out, adding: “We need to ensure coordination between those in charge of higher education and education as a whole and show the importance of issues like climate change and biodiversity.”

Akio Takemoto, programme head at UNU-IAS in Tokyo, agreed it was important to start explaining the impact of climate change at the primary and school level and there was a need for innovative ways to provide a continuous and high-capacity educational system.

Need to look at all levels

“While there was a lot of talk about Masters degrees and PhDs, we also need highly skilled technical people and it is important we train engineers to work with these technicians. We have to look at all levels of higher education.”

Dr Kanako Morita, senior researcher at the Center for Biodiversity and Climate Change with the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute, Tsukuba, Japan, told the session: “Youth education is important, but so are other actors, including the companies and financial institutions and local government, who are keen to learn more about climate change. We need to consider education at all levels and social scientists have a big role to play.”

Produce ‘maestros’ to get message across

Cortese said the education system needed to produce “maestros” able to get the message across and with the capacity to handle the difficult questions on a scientific basis.

“We can help identify students who can participate in such programmes in the countries where we intervene. Too often, we all work among ourselves with people who we agree with, but that’s not always the most productive.

“We need to set up partnerships with people who don’t necessarily think the same way we do, [and] that would force students to examine their arguments and to review them.

“It is important to develop soft skills and to meet the needs of different people and not just work with university partnerships with the same outlook.

“We need to establish partnerships with companies, so people go outside their comfort zone and are prepared when they meet people who might not think as they do and who are able to see things in a different way.”

Nic Mitchell is a UK-based freelance journalist and PR consultant specialising in European and international higher education. He blogs at www.delacourcommunications.com.

The North African region is a “hotspot”

The North African region is a “hotspot”

Experts have been pointing out for years that the North African region is a “hotspot”, and that the risks associated with temperatures already above the global average, would be higher (1.5 degrees by 2035, with the possibility, without a radical policy change, of reaching 2.2 degrees in 2050).

Rainfall is expected to decrease and temperature to rise, which will have a direct impact on water resource capacities.  Climate models show that these trends will strengthen over the future years.

As the agricultural sector is the main consumer of this resource, agricultural production – and therefore the supply to consumers – will be directly affected.

Agricultural lands are largely located in the arid and semi-arid area, representing 85% of the total land area (excluding the Sahara), and will now be increasingly subject to frequent droughts and climatic accidents.

This diagnosis, widely shared by the National Climate Plan (PNC) adopted by the authorities in 2018, has not been followed up, and the climate change adaptation measures adopted by the PNC are far from being implemented.

A major challenge, therefore, arises in a country where the orientation given to policies is aimed at a further intensification of the modes of exploitation of natural resources: how in these conditions to increase agricultural production while preserving natural resources strongly threatened in the future by ongoing climate change?

Secondly, there is the economic shock caused by the rise in world prices for basic agricultural products, which are very heavily consumed by the population (cereals, milk, edible oils, and sugar).

The market crisis and the rises in commodity prices in the spring of 2020 were accentuated by the Russia-Ukraine conflict that began on 24 February 2022.

Soft wheat prices, which hovered around $200 per tonne in the years 2011-2012, reached amounts that are around $290 per tonne in the last quarter of 2021.

The health crisis was a trigger for this market crisis and this with, on the one hand, the consequence and the weight exerted by imports from China – which became the world’s leading importer of agricultural and agri-food products during 2020/2021 season – and on the other hand, the rise in transport prices combined with temporary export restrictions implemented in several exporting countries (Russia, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Argentina, India…).

Since the beginning of the war, soft wheat has increased by 50% to $450 per tonne. World prices for vegetable oils increased by 23%, sugar by 7%, and meat by 5%.

Algeria will thus buy at the end of February 2022, 600,000 tons of milling wheat, of French origin at $ 485 per ton (cost and fees) to load March-April 2022.

Egypt, the world’s largest importer of soft wheat, will acquire 240,000 tons of French soft wheat for loading at the end of May, at $492.25 per tonne.

The featured image is of Workers harvesting wheat in a field on the outskirts of Berouaguia, southwest of Algiers. (Reuters)

Read the original article in French.