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Why Green Building Councils are Essential Partners in the Fight to Decarbonise our Cities

In the third blog in the series for World Green Building Week, GBCSA’s Manfred Braune explains how as 22 global cities sign WorldGBC’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment, it is the Green Building Councils who will play a most integral role in ensuring these cities deliver on their pledges to net zero carbon buildings by 2030 for all new buildings for its people and the planet.

You may have heard about great leadership emerging from various corners of the globe, with over 20 cities committing in September 2018 to net zero carbon buildings by 2030 for all new buildings.

This is wonderful news in a world surrounded by bad news. Cities, as the largest carbon emitters, play a vital role in emissions reductions, and must take radical action. What does this radical action look like? Is this going to be enough? And how can Green Building Councils get involved? I will unpack some of my thoughts and experiences in this blog.

The Challenge

Cities are a melting pot of complex systems, infrastructure, ecosystems, buildings and most importantly people – if it weren’t for people, cities would not be cities. Throughout this discussion, remember this, cities are for people.

Every day, millions of people are moving into cities, mostly to seek opportunities, whether it is education, jobs, housing or for social reasons – cities can provide these opportunities.

Cities are under more and more pressure to respond to this growing demand, and many of them are cracking under the pressure. The cracks show themselves in different ways, and in some cases are more like canyons than cracks. In South Africa we have the added pressure of the post-apartheid spatial segregation and millions living in extreme poverty – millions of people are suffering, living in abject poverty, and living in extremely poor conditions, mostly in small tin shacks with the nearest tap and toilet a 100m walk away. South Africa is not unique in this, and many cities are dealing with extreme poverty and insufficient infrastructure and housing.

How do cities prioritise emissions reductions when they have so many other complex issues to deal with, most importantly delivering housing and services to people? With limited budgets, and a politicised environment, this makes it very difficult to do this effectively.

Another challenge that cities face, is that they have large, layered organisational structures that often operate in silos and lack integration, filled with bureaucratic processes. In South Africa, another particular challenge is the response to corruption, which in some cases has resulted in extreme bureaucracy to clamp down on any possibility of corruption. All of this often also results in cities being somewhat distanced and alienated from the private sector and what is happening on the ground.

Cities thus have limited resources, and are obligated to deliver on those services that are most critically needed by its citizens. Cities do not have the luxury of doing abortive work, even though this does happen often more for political reason. Most cities do not have standards for green buildings, and do not have capacity to develop these or to maintain these, or to verify that buildings are compliant with any green building standards.

With these global net zero carbon commitments that are being made, there is a question that must be asked: Who will hold the cities accountable to these commitments? And who will assess the progress of these cities?

Green Building Councils are essential Partners to Cities

If you consider the above challenges that cities are facing, the cities need support in their net zero and environmental objectives in the property sector. Cities will not establish long term relationships with private for-profit companies to help them. This is where GBCs come in – GBCs are non-profit organisations, which are perfectly equipped to provide some of the support and direction that cities need in this area.

The Green Building Council South Africa (GBCSA) is working closely with the four cities in South Africa (Johannesburg, Tshwane (Pretoria), eThekwini (Durban), Cape Town) to support their work towards establishing a framework to ensure all new buildings are net zero carbon by 2030 – the GBCSA is working on a voluntary basis alongside C40’s appointed consultant, SEA.

The GBCSA is agile and has developed a number of green building standards, including for net zero carbon, water, waste and ecology, and is able to support these four cities in developing policies, by-laws and incentives that can leverage the work that the GBCSA has already done and does, and not re-invent the wheel. As and when additional funding comes available, the GBCSA can do more to build capacity in these cities, and continue this support. It would be fantastic to explore opportunities for longer term arrangements between cities and GBCs, where they are funded and contracted to deliver key outcomes with their cities, which will allow for localised growth and capacity to be established.

I think the World Green Building Council is well placed to secure global funding sources and agreements that will allow local GBCs to setup such contracts with cities, to allow such long term localised support to be established. Together we can do more. Let’s do it now.

Manfred Braune is Managing Executive: Sector Development & Transformation, & Executive Director at the Green Building Council of South Africa. For more information, visit