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The Hero for Net Zero in UAE? The Emirates Green Building Council

With 39% of global CO2 emissions attributed to building and construction, it is high time our sector is given priority in conversations surrounding sustainability and climate change. Heating, cooling, and lighting – the things we take for granted in our residential and commercial buildings – are in fact the reason behind an estimated 28% of carbon emissions. By transforming our buildings to become more energy efficient, or achieve net zero, the table can be turned, and our buildings can start playing a major role in limiting global warming.

In 2018 the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) launched the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment (the Commitment). The Commitment challenges governments and businesses to operate new buildings at net zero by 2030 and advocates for all buildings to operate at net zero by 2050. In just one year, 31 businesses, 26 cities and six states and regions worldwide have signed the Commitment. Business signatories from the UAE include retail mall developer Majid Al Futtaim and engineering consultancy AESG.

The Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment involves five stages, beginning with the decision to commit, followed by the need to disclose measured energy demand and carbon emissions. The third step requires all committed parties to develop and act upon a decarbonisation plan that outlines actions directed towards energy efficiency and renewable energy. This is followed by applying a methodology to verify the commitment through demonstrating progress achieved. In this case, verification is measured according to enhanced energy performance and reduced carbon emissions. The final step of the commitment ensures that the committed party can now advocate for net-zero through its activities and influence.

The Emirates Green Building Council (EmiratesGBC) is a pioneer in the field of green building in the MENA region, and a consistent advocate towards advancing the net zero buildings agenda. The council operates as an assessor of eligibility for the Commitment in the UAE, and works under the umbrella of the WorldGBC’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment Taskforce. EmiratesGBC has identified relevant activities within its market to promote net zero carbon buildings, whilst tracking carbon metrics to assess energy efficiency and renewable energy performance. These activities range from corporate and government engagement, to trainings and awareness sessions. In 2018, EmiratesGBC launched the Net Zero Centre of Excellence to furthermore promote these activities; with an aim to exchange knowledge on the concept between government, academia, and civil society, as well as support future (green) building regulations, and offer tools and resources to advance the net-zero movement in the UAE.

As an initial step to advancing net zero in the country and the region, and in alignment with the global trends of transitioning towards a low carbon economy, EmiratesGBC began with defining what nZEBs (Nearly Zero-Energy Buildings) are in the UAE, The concept of nZEBs is meant to run parallel with and to support the Emirates’ national vision and commitments to sustainable energy, and adoption of this definition is meant to serve as an appropriate driver to start guiding the industry toward a purposeful transition towards zero energy.

As part of a conducted study, EmiratesGBC reached out to companies and consultants in the UAE to obtain nationwide energy data of buildings. The study demonstrated that the nation was ready to align its goals with the global timeline to adopt the concept of nZEBs, and advance toward net zero. The study showed that similar concepts already exist for both residential and commercial buildings, and that many of the studied buildings generate on-site renewable energy. On its journey towards achieving net zero, EmiratesGBC recognises the potential of nZEBs and of developing an official nZEB strategy in the UAE. This combination of public and private effort is deemed to be a first step towards effective design and construction that will ensure sustainability in the UAE and in the region.

Continuously expanding its efforts, EmiratesGBC has also recently partnered with the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) – which is currently a main driving force in its advocacy efforts towards establishing net zero. This partnership enables EmiratesGBC to deliver Zero Energy and Zero Carbon certifications for buildings within the UAE market; thus bringing it a step closer towards advancing climate action and advocating net zero. It is also a major catalyst towards transforming Emirates’ built environment, and towards fulfilling Dubai’s goal of having the lowest carbon footprint worldwide by 2050.

It is through these initiatives that the EmiratesGBC continuously proves its commitment to advancing net zero carbon building in the UAE, and by promoting its principles and benefits specifically in the wider MENA region. It is constantly thriving to become a model for other GBCs around the region.

Mohammad Asfour is Head of WorldGBC’s MENA Regional Network.

This blog was researched and co-written by Luna Mansour, an intern for WorldGBC’s MENA Regional Network