What is Net-Zero Architecture? WonderedDima Stouhi before giving some of her thoughts on the Terms and Design Strategies.
As revolutionary as the construction sector may seem nowadays, it currently accounts for nearly 40% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, 11% of which are a result of manufacturing building materials such as steel, cement, and glass. Fast forward a couple of years later, after a life-changing global pandemic and indisputable evidences of climate change, CO2 emissions are still on a rise, reaching a historical maximum in 2020 according to the 2020 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction. Although a lot of progress has been made through technological advancements, design strategies and concepts, and construction processes, there is still a long way to go to reduce carbon emissions to a minimum or almost zero in the development of built environments.
By definition, “net-zero”, also known as carbon neutrality, is the act of negating or canceling out the amount of greenhouse gases produced by human activity, by reducing existing emissions and implementing methods of absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Although net-zero buildings represent a fragment of new construction projects, the technology, tools, and knowledge that architects have acquired over the past years have made designing a net-zero building the new norm. To design net-zero buildings, we listed 7 things to take into account to contribute to this global objective. The list includes making use of bioclimatic architecture and passive concepts, provide renewable energy on site whenever possible, using energy efficiency of appliances and lighting, and considering embedded carbon. Beyond architecture, urban planners have also been trying to find strategies to create environmentally friendly communities. In 2018, Architecture for Humans proposed the Zero Emission Neighborhood, an eco-village concept in the city of Pristina, Kosovo that ensures optimum sustainability for the entire community through “zero emission” buildings, passive design strategies, active solar systems, and energy efficient appliances.
Net-Zero Energy is when the building is able to offset, or counterbalance the amount of energy required to build and operate throughout its lifetime in all aspects of the site, source, cost, and emissions. In other words, the building is able to produce enough energy to cancel or “zero-out” the amount of energy it takes to operate daily. Net-zero energy buildings are often designed with these three criteria: “producing energy onsite via equipment like solar panels or wind turbines, accounting for its energy use through clean energy production offsite, and reducing the amount of energy required through design optimization”. Achieving it is not entirely dependent on the building being efficient, but on reducing the energy load, and then employing renewable energy to offset the remaining energy. An example of net-zero energy buildings is the Net Zero Energy House by Lifethings, where the client wanted a house based on common sense in its design, construction, and budget. The 230 sqm house includes photovoltaic panels, solar heat collection tubes, wood burning boiler, four kitchens and four bathrooms, all built with a modest budget.
Net-zero carbon is achieved through reducing construction techniques and building materials that result in high carbon emissions. Put simply, Net Zero Carbon = Total Carbon Emitted – Total Carbon Avoided. Reducing embodied carbon through a concise material selection and construction techniques often results in a decrease in harmful chemical off-gassing, which affects the occupants’ productivity and wellbeing. The Courtyard House by Manoj Patel Design Studio promotes carbon positive and net-zero operations through smart planning of space and material selection, all while ensuring the emotional and physical well-being of its occupants. Clay tiles on the facade are cut and interlocked in a way that explores wall hangings from the sky and compliments the white volume. The structure meets all climatic and aesthetic needs of the space, particularly through the square patterns which parallel the projections of the sun during the day and make room for cool air only to flow in through the pores.
Carbon Emissions & Fossil Fuels
Carbon emissions, or greenhouse gas emissions, are emissions emerging from the manufacturing of cement and burning of fossil fuels, and are considered the main reason behind climate change. Fossil fuel is another term used to describe non-renewable carbon-based energy sources such as coal, natural and derived gas, crude oil, and petroleum products. Although they originate from plants and animals, fossil fuels can be also made by industrial mixtures of other fossil fuels, such as the transformation of crude oil to motor gasoline. It is estimated that almost 80% of all manmade greenhouse gas emissions originate from fossil fuels combustion, with the construction industry being one of its biggest contributors.
By definition, sustainability is when a subject can be sustained, meaning that it can be maintained at length without being interrupted, disintegrated, or weakened in the long run. In architecture, however, the term “sustainability” has been used in various contexts. Some of which is to indicate being eco-conscious, an environmentalist, or “meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” using natural, social, and economic resources. Looking at all the “sustainable” projects that have been developed and are being proposed, it aims to be a holistic approach that takes into account three pillars: the environment, society, and economy, all mediated together to ensure vitality and durability. Sustainability is not just implemented on an architectural level through recycled materials and construction techniques, but also on an urban scale. The European Commission, for instance, adopted several nationwide proposals that pushed the continent a step further towards implementing the European Green Deal, an action plan that transforms the EU into a modern, resource-efficient, and competitive economy.
By definition, “passive solar energy is the collection and distribution of energy obtained by the sun using natural, non-mechanical means”, which in architecture, has provided buildings with heat, lighting, mechanical power, and electricity as naturally as possible. The configuration behind passive systems consists of three types: direct gain, indirect gain, and isolated gain, and takes into account design strategies such as: location with respect to the sun, the overall shape and orientation of a project, allocating interior rooms with respect to the sun and wind, window placement, sheltered entrance, choosing materials that absorb heat, glass facades / solar windows where necessary, implementing trombe walls, skylights, water features, and shading elements, to name a few.
Architects and urban designers have a responsibility of ensuring that the spaces people live in cater to them, the environment, the society as a whole, and maintain its cultural and historic value. However, recent years highlighted numerous socio-cultural predicaments related to the built environment such as housing crises, demolition of historic landmarks, lack of green areas, etc. One way of dealing with these crises was by reusing old structures and complimenting them with new elements or functions instead of opting for complete demolition and reconstruction, which would have inevitably generated a much bigger carbon footprint. Adaptive reuse can be executed in the form of reusing materials, interventions in pre-existing architectures, reclaiming abandoned architecture, or changing the original function of the space.
Randers Tegl aims to take responsibility and think sustainable as a part of reaching the goal of Net Zero. Both in terms of how building materials impact the climate and how the materials age, but also with a focus on architecture. That is why Randers Tegl created their sustainable series GREENER, which comes with full documentation in the form of EPD, so it is possible to use the product in technical calculation programs.
Energy transitions in the producer economies of the Middle East and North Africa
Supporting Middle East and North Africa countries to help them diversify their economies towards clean and low-carbon energy
Oil and gas producers in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are particularly exposed not only to climate change, but also to global efforts to mitigate it. This water-stressed region faces severe climate impacts, from rising temperatures to extended droughts, so must take steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, many MENA countries are economically dependent on oil and gas exports, which could come under growing pressure from global efforts to decarbonise the energy sector. MENA countries must therefore find a way to accelerate development of clean energy while diversifying their economies away from reliance on oil and gas revenues.
The International Energy Agency is working with countries across the region to leverage their existing capacities and competitive advantages in traditional energy forms towards clean and low-carbon energy technologies. The aim is to help countries chart a low-carbon pathway for their own growing energy demand, while also exploring export opportunities for emerging low-carbon energy sectors, such as hydrogen.
This is a broad-ranging programme that cuts across the work streams of the IEA. It includes supporting renewable and clean energy deployment through policy reform; navigating the pathways available to countries seeking to implement national hydrogen strategies; and bolstering economic resilience through the promotion of local value chains. The programme functions through high-level dialogue; tailored support for national policy development; and thematic workshops and training.
Board members from developing countries insisted that making a 2050 net zero goal a condition for accreditation to the fund breaches equity principles
The UN’s flagship climate fund has been gripped by fierce debate over what decarbonisation conditions should be imposed to developing nation organisations seeking to access funding.
It was close to 4am on Friday in the Green Climate Fund’s South Korean headquarters when board members brought the four-day virtual meeting to a close.
Besides the usual delays and procedural wrangling, discussions became heated when board members were asked to consider whether to renew the GCF’s partnership with the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA).
At the heart of the issue was a disagreement between members from large emerging economies and richer nations over whether decarbonisation conditions should be imposed on organisations from developing nations seeking to access funding.
The GCF was created to help poor countries curb their emissions and cope with climate impacts. It depends on agencies like DBSA to deliver projects in poor nations.
Some board members from rich countries added as a condition for DBSA to be re-accredited that the bank adopts a 2050 net zero emission target across its portfolio, and an intermediate 2030 target, within one year of the accreditation being approved.
The bank, which currently has no fossil fuel exclusion policy, would have to demonstrate how it is shifting its loans and investments away from carbon-intensive activities.
But the move was strongly resisted by developing country members who accused developed nations of imposing a carbon-cutting pathway on poorer ones.
Wael Aboul-Magd, of Egypt, told the board the 2050 net zero goal was “a global aspiration, not a prescription to every country, and particularly not for developing countries”.
Board member Ayman Shasly, of Saudi Arabia, described the condition as “blackmail,” adding that the GCF was being “manipulated by [developed countries] pushing their own agenda onto the fund”.
Yan Ren, of China, agreed with Shasly that the condition did not respect the Paris Agreement’s equity principle of common but differentiated responsibilities that nations that became rich from burning fossil fuels should cut their emissions faster to allow poorer ones to develop.
“We should not impose conditions on developing countries to force them to achieve certain targets. There is no one size fits all on fossil fuels,” she said.
DBSA is a development finance institution wholly owned by the South African government with 60% of its financing directed to the rest of the African continent.
Oil Change International data shared with Climate Home News shows that between 2018 and 2020, DBSA supported gas projects with $270m in financing, compared with nearly $320m for wind and solar.
Some of the DBSA-backed projects included a gas power plant in Ghana and LNG production in Mozambique.
However, campaigners warned that poor transparency in reporting at DBSA meant the true figures could be higher.
Campaigners have directly called on the South African government to commit to stop funding fossil fuels through DBSA by ensuring the bank adopts a fossil fuel finance exclusion policy and increases financing for accelerating the clean energy transition.
Members from rich nations pushed back against calls to re-accredit DBSA without any conditions and the issue was postponed to a future meeting.
Stéphane Cieniewski, of France, said the conditions were “not unreasonable or excessive” and aligned with the Paris accord.
Lars Roth, of Sweden, one of the board members who requested the net zero condition be applied to DBSA, told the meeting the bank was “already working on and intended to approve” a 2050 net zero goal across its portfolio and would be making a formal announcement in a couple of months.
Meanwhile, the fund agreed to re-accredit the UN Development Programme for another five years, amid ongoing corruption investigations into two of its projects in Albania and Samoa.
Overall, the board approved $1.2 billion for 13 new carbon-cutting and adaptation projects – a record amount for a single board meeting.
This included $125m for the GCF to become an anchor investor in the creation of a global fund to support and de-risk private investment designed to protect and restore coral reefs around the world.
The Global Fund for Coral Reef will support companies investing in sustainable fisheries and aquaculture practices, coral farming, plastic waste management and water treatment.
But it will also promote ecotourism and the development of “sustainably-managed hotel resorts” and tourists activities such as “surf, diving, snorkelling and cruises”.
The proposal was submitted by Pegasus Capital Advisors, a Delaware-incorporated private equity firm. The fund is due to be rolled out in 17 countries and aims to protect 29,000 hectare of reef globally and create nearly 13,000 jobs.
Board members overwhelmingly backed the design of the project despite strong opposition from civil society members acting as observers at the fund.
“We are very concerned that instead of helping communities in reef ecosystems adapt from climate change impacts, this adaptation project will profit out of harming the reefs,” Erika Lennon, of the Center for Environmental Law, told the board.
Lennon described the absence of connection between funding surf, diving or snorkelling enterprises with safeguarding reef ecosystems as “woefully inadequate” and urged for investments in hotel resorts, cruises and shrimp farming to be explicitly excluded from the scope of the project.
She warned that reef-damaging practices promoted by the project risked damaging the GCF’s reputation.
In part two of Climate Fight: the world’s biggest negotiation, a series from The Anthill podcast on the UN climate summit in Glasgow, we’re talking to experts about the grand goal of the negotiations: reaching net-zero emissions.
More than 130 countries have set or are considering a target of net-zero emissions by mid-century. At COP26 – the annual meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which the UK is hosting this year – world leaders will be urged to submit emission reduction targets for 2030 that will put them on track to reach net-zero by 2050.
And what does net zero mean, exactly? “All it really means is that our dangerous interference with the Earth’s climate will stop when we stop emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere,” says James Dyke, a senior lecturer in global systems at the University of Exeter. With time and the world’s remaining carbon budget running perilously short, net-zero emissions entails not only “the amount of carbon that we will emit”, Dyke explains, but also “the amount of carbon that we will remove.”
Carbon capture and storage is one technology that climate scientists hope could help in that effort. Our producer, Tiffany Cassidy, visited the Boundary Dam coal-fired power plant in Saskatchewan, Canada, to see it in action. This is the first power station in the world to successfully use this technology, and we learn that it now captures two thirds of its carbon emissions.
“It’s not going to be just one technology that is going to help us to reach net zero,” says Mercedes Maroto-Valer, director of the Research Centre for Carbon Solutions at Heriot-Watt University. “It’s going to be a portfolio of different technologies that are going to be ready at different times.”
There are options for removing carbon from the atmosphere, such as planting trees or direct air-capture machines; and preventing it getting there in the first place, such as carbon capture and storage; and replacing fossil fuels with zero-carbon alternatives, such as green hydrogen – but none of them are ready to be deployed at anything like the scale necessary to offset the more than 40 billion tonnes of CO₂ which countries emit each year.
As the awesome challenge of decarbonising the world bears down on us, Myles Allen, professor of geosystem science at the University of Oxford, tells us that there is no longer room for half-measures:
We didn’t save the ozone layer by putting a tax on deodorant. We went to the manufacturers of CFCs and just said, no, you can’t produce these things that are going to destroy the ozone layer. We’ve got to do the same thing for fossil fuel producers.
Join us, and a host of academic experts, as we stake out the path to net zero.
The Climate Fight podcast series is produced by Tiffany Cassidy. Sound design by Eloise Stevens and the theme tune is by Neeta Sarl. The series editor is Gemma Ware.
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