Build Back Better

On the path to Net Zero

04 Oct 2021

Build Back Better

In this bi-weekly blog series for CM Today, Alex Barzycki, Associate Director -MENA Property and Asset Management, sheds light on the importance of having sustainability agenda.

The year 2019 was a landmark year for the sustainability agenda. With the acknowledgment of climate change as an existential threat to our way of life, and the acceptance that the lack of meaningful action taken to date, meant we were on the verge of tipping into an irrecoverable climate crisis.


It is now 2021 and this realization has just become more important than we could ever have imagined. This isn’t hyperbole. Our news feeds are filled with the evidence that the physical effects of climate change – stronger and more frequent hurricanes, storm surges, wildfires, heavy rainfall, and wave after wave of storms – are now happening with increasing frequency.

The challenge, as set out in the 2016 Paris Agreement , was to ensure that action was taken to hard limit global average temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2050, however do everything possible to not go beyond 1.5 degrees. Commitments were made at corporate and national levels, including in the UAE where it launched its Energy Strategy 2025. The strategy aims to increase the contribution of “clean energy” from 25% to 50% of total energy consumption by 2050 and reduce the carbon footprint of power generation by 70%.

The pandemic has also played a part in focusing on this global issue. Whilst in the vast majority of cases the pandemic has led to numerous negative externalities, arguably, one positive externality comes from economic recovery plans enacted. The OECD estimates that member countries have allocated $336 billion to the green recovery as part of these plans. However, it is important to put this in context, this only accounts for 17% of the total. Clearly more must be done and the built environment will continue to be a significant area of focus given it accounts for an estimated 40% of carbon emission.

It all seemed to be going so well. Levels of cautious optimism ahead of COP26 (held by the UK at the end of 2020) were rising that we may now see global action to mitigate the risk posed by climate change, until Covid-19 stopped the world…

The period of lockdown imposed by nations to reduce the impact of the virus led to huge reductions in carbon emissions due to plummeting car, air and rail travel for business and leisure. The question is, as the world opens again, how do we maintain the reductions catalysed by the lockdowns and push on to achieve net-zero carbon?

We believe that the office sector will be a key area of focus in the future, their use will continue to be a central part of our working lives, albeit in a different form.

While we believe that the office will always be a key feature of our cities, how they are used will undoubtedly change. In order to maximise the opportunity this presents, it is essential that there is responsive collaboration between owners, occupiers, property management, engineering and sustainability teams. The demand changes of reoccupation will vary based on the occupier's needs and on the future direction of the virus itself.

From an operational perspective, this might mean reconfiguring access control systems to reduce the operational area of a building and in turn the area requiring full lighting and ventilation and prioritizing the monitoring of internal air quality to enable better control of energy use and better health outcomes for building users. Such strategies would need developing for each building to account for the subtle differences between them and take steps to ensure that all the systems are “Covid compliant” and they are being maintained and adjusted to meet changes in demand.

The changing working practices leads to a positive opportunity such as ageing plants requiring considerable downtime to replace and causing disruption to occupiers, or costs to replace out of hours, could be replaced with a more energy efficient system during periods of decreased occupancy, reducing capital cost and decreasing future energy consumption.

Whatever happens from here, our clients need knowledgeable and trusted advisors to react quickly to future shocks based on the lessons learnt this year, provide facts, reassurance, and support.

We as professionals need to:

  • Improvise in the current situation
  • Adapt by following credible science and engineering and sharing our knowledge
  • Overcome by implementing strategies early

If you would like to know more about the changes you should be making to your buildings, please either contact myself at [email protected] or my specialist sustainability colleagues Carl Brooks at [email protected] and Carlo Di Martino at [email protected]

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