The International Energy Agency (IEA)'s Global Energy Review 2020 report estimates a 6 per cent decline in global emissions this year to levels from 10 years ago; this is directly attributed to reduced mobility and economic activity. However, researchers are noticing a rebound in carbon emission levels as people across the globe gradually return to ‘normality' due to easing of lockdown restrictions and a return to pre-pandemic levels of economic activity. The energy sector (which includes electricity and heat, manufacturing and construction, transportation, and buildings) is accountable for releasing two-thirds of greenhouse gases (GHG) globally.
A granular analysis by the World Resources Institute shows that within the energy sector, the generation of electricity and heat is the most carbon-intensive (30 per cent of total GHG emissions in 2016), followed by transportation (16 per cent) and manufacturing and construction (12 per cent). Therefore, the decarbonisation agenda and the global fight against climate change will necessitate significant changes in the energy sector Construction and infrastructure is one of the largest industries in terms of output and its contribution to the GDP of the UAE and other countries in the wider region. The industry, undoubtedly, is carbon intensive across all stages of the life cycle, starting from the extraction of raw materials, to on-site activities, operation of the building and end-of-life. And hence, there is a greater need to find innovative solutions that help minimise the negative environmental impact of the construction industry.
The role of innovation
A range of innovations are in development and being adopted by industry including materials and design, renewable energy conversion and storage technologies, and demand side management. Industry stakeholders, especially developers, are aware of the high energy intensity of construction materials such as steel and concrete which are still considered to be the best materials in terms of mechanical and ageing properties for the construction industry. The associated cumulative manufacturing process contributes nearly 47 per cent of the construction industry carbon footprint, however, as revealed in a recent report by the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. While the production processes of both have already been optimised, there is a potential emissions saving of 6 per cent in using low carbon cement, 18 per cent in general material efficiency, and 7 per cent in material switching respectively. Now take the oil and gas industry, where the main focus of decarbonisation is on its operations (responsible for 9 per cent of the global GHG emissions). By applying lean principles and tools to asset operations, electrifying operations where possible and employing pro-sustainability vendors, oil and gas companies can embrace sustainability along the value chain.
Similarly, the construction industry there has reportedly been a significant decline in global carbon dioxide (Co2) emissions in 2020, as the world finds itself in the midst of a global pandemic The Future of Project Delivery 25 too can focus on reducing carbon footprint along its value chain by sourcing environment-friendly materials (eg. green concrete), minimising waste, and reducing energy consumption.
Heavy construction machinery is one specific area that is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels where the inefficient usage of electricity can result in the unnecessary burning of fossil fuels further down the energy supply line. Construction companies should consider low-emission equipment that run on alternate energy sources such as biodiesel or hydrogen fuel cell as one step towards sustainability. The challenges of the climate in this region require different approaches to building design than for those in more moderate climates. Innovations in design, which may draw on a more traditional vernacular, incorporating careful consideration of glazed facades, glazing orientation and use of shading devices, could be exploited to minimise excessive heat gain. Moreover, further research into highly insulated low-thermal mass buildings could influence future building design. There is also increasing interest in special coatings (also nano-materials) for windows that decrease solar gain, and consequently energy consumption associated with cooling. For instance, nanogel when applied on windows could decrease the energy required for cooling by 16 per cent compared to double-glazed windows. Adopting material efficiency strategies at all stages of the value chain can significantly help avoid Co2 emissions.