Cross Collaboration for Net-Zero transition for the Region – A CIBSE event
On the evening of 7th of September, CIBSE UAE held a panel discussion on the topic ‘Delivering across a decade of action: Cross Collaboration for Net-Zero transition for the Region’ at Voco, Dubai. The panellists included industry leaders in the region: Andy Shaw (Chair, RIBA Gulf Chapter), Issac Coker (Technical Director, WSP Middle East), Abdullatif Albitawi (Director, Emirates Green Building Council), Dr Pablo Izquiredo (Head of Energy Services, Ras Al Khaimah Municipality Department), Majd Fayyad (DSM Strategy & Policy Lead, Dubai Supreme Council of Energy), Sandra Woodall (Design Director, tangramTERRA) as well as Kevin Mitchell (President, CIBSE). The event was moderated by award-winning
climate strategist and AECOM’s Head of Innovation, Sustainability and ESG for the MENA region – Farah Naz.
At first, the audience were introduced to Embodied Carbon (EC or ECO2), alongside some vital insights and statistics on EC across the region. In layman’s terms, EC is the carbon
footprint of an infrastructure project prior to it being operational. As Dr Pablo would go on to say later during the discussion, in order to fundamentally change the societal mindset, the processes that occur behind the making have to be altered first. After all, the tenet for strong sustainability suggests that meaningful and durable change comes from a deep reflection on our values. This also applies to Embodied Carbon within building materials. For instance, according to the think tank Chatham House (Royal Institute of International Affairs), cement production alone contributes to 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Yet more than 4 billion tons of cement is produced each year for building projects around the world, and its usage is only set to increase over the coming years as people across developing countries move into urban areas. This may well be the most challenging part of the transition to NetZero, to persuade developing countries to switch to more sustainable materials than choose the relative ease of building large-scale housing projects using conventional materials and methods. As Woodall would say towards the end of the session, High-performance buildings do not necessarily mean High-Tech buildings”. She continues further saying that “the only way to reduce emissions is to reduce consumption and improve efficiency”, while also adding that
“Sustainability shouldn’t be Elitist”.
Cross-disciplinary collaboration endured as the focal point of discussion for the evening, a topic accentuated by Woodall when she (rather humorously) asked whether there was a term to describe EC in Arabic, implying the need to create a common perception, a common typology of language in order to communicate across disciplines and navigate cultural
boundaries. The panellists unanimously agreed that there needs to be greater communication integrity between various stakeholders involved in the built environment – Architects,
Structural Engineers, Building Service Engineers, Planners, Contractors among others.
Albitawi made his view clear that universities should update their curriculum to include Sustainable Development (a move that’s being increasingly implemented across all
specializations). Secondly, he emphasised on key collaboration between Academia, Government and Industry, which as he explained is still very limited, “Though companies offer
internship programmes, many of these aren’t taken seriously”.
Majd Fayyad commented on COP 27, which would be focused primarily on the implementation of the climate commitments, saying that more countries in the region need to be committed with a fixed target (the UAE being the flagbearer). He further went on to state that the scenario each country would choose to follow to systematically decarbonize varies widely. Just this month, the federal government announced a more ambitious target, where by the end of the decade, the country aims to cut carbon emissions by 31% (an increase from the target of 23.5% set less than 2 years ago). He continued further, saying that the Net Zero strategy isn’t just focused on global climatic goals, it has many facets to be discussed including the economic impact it would have, the focus on Health and Well-being in the fallout of the Covid19 pandemic as well as Energy Security (especially when taking into context the war in Ukraine and the subsequent rise in energy costs – chiefly across Europe in what’s being dubbed as the ‘looming grim winter’) to highlight a few.
The Cross-disciplinary emphasis of the evening reminded me of a brief discussion I’d had with a professor of mine last month. Owing to the diverse nature of specializations required for brokering ideas and perspectives of different scientific and institutional mindsets, I had suggested that a strategy may be needed; however, a conflict of interest could easily arise over priorities suggested by individuals from various different backgrounds, this can especially be seen during the Theoretical Modelling of sustainability appraisals when researchers are faced with defining the conceptual framework for their analysis. Concepts such as green development, Ecological city and Smart city are often charged with diverse meanings in different contexts; I further queried, could certain streams with a multidisciplinary approach be a fine pick to eradicate this invisible layer of obstruction? His reply was (rather worryingly) marred with scepticism, as he proceeded to describe the scene – traditionally, disciplines have been at ‘war’ with each other, a phenomenon that’s been seen repeatedly and whose effects have been felt and repeated time and time again. Intellectuals and Professionals across disciplines would congregate, trying to fix an issue, only to settle on a hefty compromise thanks to failure to reach a unanimous agreement. For instance, the excitement around the very first Earth Summit in Rio, 1992 was overshadowed by the subsequent loss of traction in the years that followed. Twenty years later, a legacy event termed ‘Rio + 20’ was held to measure the progress that was made, which unsurprisingly was minimal. The report card indication system created during Rio 1992 still stated an ‘F’ for the Stabilization of Greenhouse-Gas Emissions in 2012. Gus Speth, the former dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies stated in 2013 that the top environmental problems globally weren’t biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse or climate change; but, selfishness, greed and apathy, to deal with which a spiritual and cultural transformation is needed. In his words, “I thought that with 30 years of
good science we could address these problems, but I was wrong”. Here, he essentially endorses the separation between the natural sciences and the culture that has long driven our approach to sustainability.
Finally, the limitation of ‘Cross-collaboration’ to more or less the STEM fields and, at the very best, involving just Economics from outside the technical fields expresses a sense of
desolation when it comes down to Sustainability in the built environment. If we are to thrive in a world driven by micro-level, community-led efforts, then changes would be needed to embrace cross-disciplinary collaboration with fields outside of STEM too – Anthropology, Ethnography, Human Geography to name a few.
This blog was created by Sahil Shaik Muzawar. Sahil is currently pursuing an MSc in Urban Planning at the University of Birmingham, Dubai. With a background in Geography, he is presently in the process of exploring topics for his dissertation. An avid analyst, he frequently collaborates and reaches out to Academics and Professionals alike to apprehend their perspectives and insights into issues, especially topics that delve into Futurism and relate to Area Studies. As evident by the dynamism shared in his specialization, he often utilizes juxtaposition in themes to have a comparative, unorthodox approach to a topic.
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