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Notes from the Network: The buildings blocks to a greener future in Africa

On the beautiful island of Mauritius adorned with its white sandy beaches and sizzling hot weather, delegates from all over Africa and beyond gathered to attend the 4th Africa Green Building Summit. The summit was hosted by Mauritius GBC, who have been advocating and raising awareness on green sustainable construction on the small but growing island for the last 10 years.

Held over two days, the Africa Green Building Summit focused on key topics such as smart cities, advancing net zero, financing the green building sector and green building materials, while speakers shared regional examples.

Alongside the Summit was the first Africa Regional Network meeting of 2018. The Africa Regional Network meeting gave a much-needed opportunity for Green Building Councils (GBCs) to collaborate and carve out a green building narrative that is unique to the diversity and richness of the continent. Africa, as the cradle of humanity presented a perfect pathway for different ideas around an African narrative that is centred on togetherness, community and diversity.

Here are the top three learnings from these recent events in Africa.

1. Rwanda to launch compliance legislation for green building

Despite the challenges facing African GBCs, there are plenty of opportunities that were discussed, resulting in practical actions for the rest of the year. Amongst these was the ‘Race to Zero’ convention that will be held and hosted by the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA) in Cape Town. Additionally, Rwanda Green Building Organization, together with the Government of Rwanda are working on launching a minimum compliance legislation for green building in the country. This is the first African country to embark on a nationwide green building exercise.

2. What Africa can learn about city planning

As Africa continues to experience rapid urbanisation, the topic of smart cities is increasingly being viewed as a way to manage and govern burgeoning cities. Smart cities and green buildings are intricately linked. Technology plays a catalytic role in ensuring that green buildings can function in smart ways. Although African cities are yet to catch up with the practicalities of smart cities, the conversation must begin now. Dr Okran Geray, head of Smart Cities Dubai, gave a compelling history of the journey that Dubai has gone through to attain smart city status. This provided a bedrock of learning opportunities for cities in Africa.

“Only 24% of Sub-Saharan Africa has access to some form of energy”.

Sub–Saharan Africa suffers from severe energy poverty despite being energy rich. With energy being a challenge for Africa today, the conversation around net zero and energy efficiency building proved to be welcomed by different stakeholders.  The small island of Reunion off the coast of continental Africa is home to incredible net zero buildings that have been designed and built taking into account the local climate and environmental conditions. Professor Francois Garde of University of Reunion,  ESIROI, provided fascinating examples of net zero buildings that are anchored on passive design, renewable energy, and the use of local materials. This presentation comes at a time when the World Green Building Council is ramping up efforts to ensure net zero buildings by 2050 through WorldGBC’s Advancing Net Zero Global Project. African GBCs are best placed to kick-start awareness and capacity building around net zero energy buildings and the use of renewable energy technologies to facilitate the journey to net zero.

Place-making as a form of humanizing cities was a welcomed session at the summit. As we think about how to make green buildings the status quo in African cities, people centred planning and development should be part and parcel of the process. Gilbert Rochecouste, founder and Managing Director at Village Well, a consultancy firm based in Melbourne, Australia provided evidence in examples of how place-making has been able to transform cities through the lens of people and their needs by transforming space into a place.

3. How to finance the green building industry

Last but not least, was the conversation on financing the green building industry. The panel consisted of delegates from Mauritius Commercial Bank, International Finance Corporation Finance and the French Development Bank. Green financing credit lines and donor funding centred around climate change is increasingly becoming accessible to national governments, private sector and international organisations. With reference to SUNREF, climate finance for Mauritius funded by the European Union through the French Development Agency and a loan through the Mauritius Commercial Bank; is a successful project that has yielded a major hypermarket in the city of Flacq, in the East of Mauritius, which is equipped with best technologies in energy efficiency, renewable energies and environmental performance. This shows how concerted dialogues and efforts between private sector, government and the international donor community can facilitate green buildings and sustainable energy across the African continent.

Jane Afrane is the Regional Head of WorldGBC’s Africa Network. Find out more about the Africa Network.