14 December 2023
This article has been created by AESG in collaboration with the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) and its Middle East North Africa Regional Partners and Net Zero Collaborators through interviews and surveys from industry experts. It is the second of four articles that highlight the achievements of advancing net zero in the built environment.
Private sector commitments towards sustainability
In the past five years, we have witnessed an increasing number of commitments towards sustainability and net zero goals. These commitments have been led by the Government and driven by National Agendas, United Arab Emirates (UAE’s) Year of Sustainability and the COP28 hosted in the UAE. More recently the private sector has issued several public commitments coming from large local and international manufacturers, developers, construction companies, finance institutions and others, completing the value chain loop of industry decarbonisation. These commitments are followed by internal or external targets, at first focused on operational carbon reduction (fuel, electricity and cooling) and increasingly switching the focus on scope 3 — waste, water and embodied carbon reduction.
Many companies in the UAE have sustainability strategies and frameworks in place while conducting ESG reporting as per GRI, SDG or CPD/SBTi frameworks.
Companies are creating a ‘business as usual’ baseline — what the carbon footprint would be without any sustainability requirements or initiatives, and then developing strategies to drive the footprint reduction as much as possible. This included setting key performance indicators (KPIs) that all projects must achieve across a range of focus areas, including energy and carbon. There is also a continuing exploration of ways to increase the use of renewable energy to further reduce the carbon footprint.
The industry has been implementing energy efficiency for more than a decade
Significant progress has been made on setting strict energy efficiency requirements, such as a minimum of 40% reduction in buildings’ energy consumption. This can be achieved through sustainable design and optimising the operation and maintenance of buildings.
The building sector in the UAE consumes more than 65% of total energy for cooling. This is being tackled by improving the specifications of the building envelope (better thermal resistance and glazing performance) and increasing energy efficiency (equipment and HVAC equipment). Testing and adoption of cutting-edge cooling technologies will greatly reduce operational carbon (i.e. radiant cooling, geothermal cooling). On-site renewable technologies are being implemented.
Waste management and vehicle electrification
Many private sector companies are already exploring ways to reduce their fuel and waste emissions as well. There are a large number of initiatives being implemented like on-site recycling facilities, waste-to-energy and the adoption of EVs (trucks).
Data monitoring and management as a first stepping stone to decarbonisation
We cannot manage what we cannot measure. As soon as buildings become operational, a challenge arises to the companies, which is the data management plan. This is due to the high volume of data that needs to be collected for verification and validation for it to be used for calculations for operational carbon emissions. A struggle that arises from a lack of quality monitoring of energy, water and waste but also suppliers companies are working with. Custom designed data management plans and tools would support carbon emission monitoring and verification. The data management plans and tools need to consider appropriate reporting standards, the business structure of the reporting company, and ensuring governance is an integral part of data management.
Data-driven decision making deserves a spotlight. Employing advanced analytics and digital tools can enhance energy management, identify inefficiencies, and guide targeted interventions. While the UAE building and construction industry has made remarkable progress, these key hotspots offer us a roadmap for future-focused action.
Public Commitment, reporting of decarbonisation measures and targets
When leading companies publish their net zero targets — this vision drives other businesses to move forward with initiatives and programmes to meet that aspirational target.
Few businesses in the UAE market lead the way in their carbon emissions reductions or high operational energy savings. This enables them to obtain certifications in their new construction buildings such as LEED Zero or ILFI Net Zero Energy certification and opens the door for others to learn from examples and follow the same path.
Renewable energy comes at a premium
In this region, the main opportunity is related to policies that regulate the use of renewable energy and the capital cost of systems that reduce carbon emissions. For example, installing renewable energy systems has an initial high premium compared to grid power. This is typically challenged in buildings where unit ownership will be transferred to other owner(s) so that the main developer would not bear the responsibility for operational energy costs.
We’d like to thank our MENA Regional Partners and Net Zero Collaborators for contributing to this collaborative thought leadership series:
Dubai Holding Corporate | Dubai Holding Real Estate | Masdar | Department of Energy, Abu Dhabi | A³&Co | Bee’ah Group | ICD Brookfield Place | Majid Al Futtaim | AD Ports Group | Linxion/Bartec Group | Expo City Dubai | Dar Group | Saint Gobain | Benchmark Gensuite | AESG