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GlobalABC leads UNFCCC Technical Expert Meeting on Mitigation - Buildings

Organized by the UNFCCC and the GlobalABC, the second sessions of the Technical Expert Meetings on Mitigation 2020 focused on 'Mobilising the buildings value chain towards circular economy'

The second session on Building (back) better: Mobilising the value chain towards circularity focused on the enormous potential a circularity approach has for the built environment and vice versa.

We need to see construction waste as a resource and decouple economic development from resource use. Only if we see circular economy as the captain of the ship can we harness its transformative power. Such an approach can also drastically lower risks and costs associated with resource use.

We can significantly reduce our environmental impact and move buildings towards circularity by tackling building materials! For this to work, we need to focus on the overall added value of such an approach, above and beyond avoid pure environmental arguments. Building material waste needs to be recognized as a resource and we need corresponding business models – for which we need everyone aboard to steer in the same direction -policy and business alike! Re-shaping our business models also means construction companies need to see themselves as ‘waste treatment and waste-use’ companies next to being materials-focused companies. LafargeHolcom for instance presented how it is the second biggest waste treatment company and uses 20% of waste straight for buildings – waste needs to be recognized as similar in value as  virgin materials.

In addition to the resource benefits, new models focused on circular enterprises also greatly benefit local growth and jobs. Indeed, the advantage of circular enterprises particularly in the built environment is that they are relatively labor-intensive and usually on-site enterprises, meaning they provide local essential services such as energy services, recycling, water treatment, and materials– which promotes local growth and jobs.

Despite these benefits, WBCSD estimates our world is only 9% circular – we are not going in the right direction, yet, the remaining 91% is a 4.5 trillion business opportunity and we need to understand this financial potential! Enablers for circular economy include market transformation approaches - scaling product innovation and illustrating the business case while raising awareness with investors; having conducive policy frameworks with regulation that enables circular products and corresponding procurement rules; and of course a culture shift where re-used products are seen as equally or more valuable compared to virgin materials.

The example from India demonstrated the importance of some of these enablers:  To cater to growing urban population India needs to build a new Chicago every year until 2030! To that end, India is working on an urban transformation which include circularity approaches such as waste management and alternative material use such as using fly-ash for low-carbon cements and using agricultural waste for building components, as well as waste-to-energy approaches.

Seeing buildings as key to COVID-19 economic recovery while promoting sustainability, the City of Medellin has a centralized council on construction in place to oversee building management and working towards the city target of carbon neutrality by 2050. The city focuses on passive design and natural ventilation, essential in the tropics.  A particular opportunity due to job promotion are building retrofits through public private partnerships and trough starting with public buildings. Indeed, the city’s development plan for addressing the economic crisis resulting from COVID-19 includes sustainable housing and retrofitting almost 10,000 houses

 Speakers included:

  •  Linda HøIBYE, Strategic sustainability and circular economy senior advisor, COWI
  • Magali ANDERSON, Chief Sustainability Officer, LafargeHolcim
  • Jeremy GIBBERD, Director, Gauge, South Africa
  • Cristiana CIARALDI JOLIVET, Manager, Built Environment, World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD)
  • Dr. Shailesh Kr. AGRAWAL, Executive Director, Building Materials & Technology Promotion Council (BMTPC), Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs, Government of India
  • Carlos Alberto BOHORQUEZ GUTIERREZ, Environmental Coordinator, Municipality of Medellín, Colombia

 This was the second of three sessions of the Technical Expert Meetings on Mitigation (TEM-M 2020) event series on “Human settlements: sustainable low-emission housing and building solutions. Technologies and design for buildings, housing and construction”.

The third session will focus on ‘Pathways for moving to scale’. You can find additional information here.