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Picture: 123RF/bunnynight
Picture: 123RF/bunnynight

The construction industry’s role in exacerbating climate change by adding to global warming and intensifying carbon emissions is undeniable. This issue is compounded by ongoing urbanisation, driven by an ever-growing global population. 

The escalating global population is giving impetus to the construction sector, magnifying its impact on economies and the environment alike. Research has revealed that in 2021 the building and construction sector accounted for about 37% of energy- and process-related CO2 emissions, and more than 34% of energy demand globally.

The industry is accountable for almost half of all worldwide material extraction, and according to the World Economic Forum, is responsible for nearly a third of all waste generated globally, more than two-thirds of which is discarded without further recovery and reuse.

Delving deeper into the root causes of emissions within the industry it becomes apparent that energy-intensive production processes for materials such as cement, steel and glass, coupled with the transportation of these resources to construction sites, is a significant contributor. Notably, concrete production alone is responsible for over 8% of global CO2 emissions, surpassing those of the aviation industry. 

The 2022 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction estimated that the building and construction sector in Africa was worth $5.4bn (R103bn), and it is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 6.4% by 2024. In the local context, SA’s construction industry is projected by some to grow by close to 5% this year, with this growth poised to continue in the coming years.

However, sustaining this growth necessitates the implementation of pragmatic measures to combat carbon emissions. Embracing sustainable and energy-efficient construction practices is paramount. 

The upcoming COP28 conference, to be hosted in the UAE between November 30 and December 12, is expected to be a defining juncture for steering the industry’s course towards environmental responsibility. Adam Ralph, UAE country manager at Turner & Townsend, has noted that decarbonisation is no longer an option but an urgent business imperative necessitating a transformative shift within the industry.

Recent findings by Turner & Townsend concerning the Middle East’s construction industry spotlight mounting pressure to prioritise sustainability and strive towards net-zero objectives. The impending COP28 conference promises to catalyse these changes within the Gulf region. 

Global consensus dictates the imperative to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, a goal essential for honouring the Paris Agreement’s mission of the restricting temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. 

It is reassuring that while we acknowledge the devastating effect the construction industry has on climate change glimmers of hope emerge through the adoption of sustainable building practices. These “green” methodologies encompass energy-efficient designs, integration of renewable energy sources and the use of sustainable or recycled materials, all aimed at shrinking the sector’s environmental footprint. 

It is for these reasons that Novare recently announced a significant investment in rooftop photovoltaic (PV) panels as an eco-friendly and renewable energy source to curb carbon emissions across our African property portfolio and strengthen our sustainability drive. 

The first phase of this solar project focuses on Matola Mall, one of Novare’s retail properties in Mozambique, in collaboration with Enteria Moçambique. The agreement includes the supply and installation of 777.84kW peak output photovoltaic panels and eight solar inverters, generating 1,159,042kW hours of sustainable energy annually.

This clean energy solution is projected to save over 5-million metical per year in energy costs and will help offset negative emissions stemming from backup diesel generators on site. Already, 13.5 tonnes of CO2 savings have been realised in just one month of the system’s operation. 

This move aligns with the broader sustainability strategy for our property portfolio, which also includes ultimately obtaining certification for all our properties, particularly following the successful award of the prestigious green building certification for the Novare Great North Mall and Standard Chartered head office buildings in Lusaka, Zambia. 

This investment marks the first of its kind in Mozambique, making Novare a pioneer in implementing renewable energy solutions for commercial buildings on this scale in the country. The move forms an integral part of our sustainability strategy, aiming to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of the property portfolio across Sub-Saharan Africa and contribute to the global drive for net zero emissions and ultimately working towards achieving the UN sustainable development goals.   

However, meeting this objective is not the construction industry’s responsibility alone, but a collaborative effort from all industry stakeholders. Policymakers at all levels must implement effective tools for emission reduction while promoting sustainable and resilient development. Industry and finance leaders must invest in innovative solutions for rapid decarbonisation. Civil society engagement is also vital for driving essential change.

• Kumalo is ESG & impact officer at Novare Holdings. 

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