Greener built environment could meet over 50% of net zero goals

29 January 2024 4 min. read

Pushing for innovations in sustainability within the construction sector and overall built environment in the Middle East could eventually allow countries to meet more than 50% of the net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions goals currently in place. That is according to a study from strategy consultancy Strategy& and engineering group Dar.

Across the Middle East, there is big money in construction. About $2 trillion is expected to be poured into construction projects by 2035. These are not just some new buildings – in some cases, there are entirely new cities or even regions, like is the case with Saudi Arabia’s various mega projects.

As the built environment continues to expand at an accelerated pace, making up 39% of CO2 emissions and 40% of global material use, governments and the private sector in the Middle East have an opportunity to shift the construction industry towards net-zero.

Greener built environment could meet over 50% of net zero goals

Source: Strategy& and Dar Al-Handasah analysis

The Strategy& and Dar report notes that the region now has the opportunity to embrace the future of net-zero innovations to become a pioneer in sustainable technologies and techniques for the built environment.

For built environment development to achieve net-zero emissions, it would require more than just things like a commitment to using more sustainable materials, greener construction processes, and better energy efficiency.

Though over 50% of region-wide net-zero goals could be reached by cleaning up the sector, true net-zero would also call for further, holistic sustainability beyond the built environment. That would need to include a successful transition to decentralized renewable energy, low carbon transportation models, and offset schemes that can account for any emissions left over.

Greener built environment could meet over 50% of net zero goals

Source: Strategy& and Dar Al-Handasah analysis

The report highlights 50 technologies that can be part of a serious paradigm shift in creating a more sustainable built environment. Of those, some are further along in development than others, and some are expected to have more impact than others.

Among those that are most feasible and will have the biggest impact – those that the industry should act on now – are innovations like electronic smart glass, waste-to-energy solutions, sustainably-powered charging infrastructure, and smart AI-enabled buildings.

Some solutions are surprisingly simple, like for example the idea of avoiding what are called ‘urban canyons’, or in other words, narrow streets with dense construction on both sides, which cause heat to be trapped at the street level. This basic rethinking in the way cities are built could allow for a huge increase in natural breezes, a godsend in the incredibly hot environments of the Middle East, which are only going to get hotter as climate change worsens.

Further reading: Eight success factors for enhancing the delivery of mega programs.

Greener built environment could meet over 50% of net zero goals

Source: Strategy& and Dar Al-Handasah analysis

A previous report found that half of the work being done on mega projects in the Middle East could be decarbonized relatively pain-free by cutting emissions at the design stage. With the huge amounts of materials, energy, and planning that are put into these projects, there come also a large number of opportunities for significant cuts to emissions.

“Nowhere else in the world is building so much. And nowhere else is there such an opportunity to establish global leadership in ensuring that the built environment is sustainable and innovative,” said Marwan Bejjani, partner at Strategy&,

“This opportunity will need to be seized quickly, so that existing plans can be brought in line with a consistently sustainability-focused approach. The upside for the Middle East will be calculated in dollars, but also in lifestyle quality – and in terms of the benefits for the planet.”