Green Steel: Middle East’s Stepping-Stone To Net Zero In Construction
While the debate over the current climate crisis rages on, one must look at sustainable construction not just as a means to an end in the quest for a more sustainable world, but as a destination that one could permanently aspire for.
The transition to a green economy is slated to add 24 million new jobs globally by 2030 if the right policies are put in place, says the International Labour Organization (ILO). The same report however warns that almost 6 million jobs will also be lost in the transition. [Read more about this in our interview with Frank Wouters, Issue 12]
“The green economy can enable millions more people to overcome poverty and deliver improved livelihoods for this and future generations.” ILO Deputy Director-General Deborah Greenfield said.
Climate change is both an existential threat and the “greatest commercial opportunity of our time”, said former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney. Blackrock’s CEO Larry Fink agrees while warning that countries and companies that do not invest in the opportunity “risk being left behind [and] risk losing jobs, even as other places gain them”.
Construction causes 40% of the world’s carbon emissions, way more than agriculture or airlines, but is hardly called out for its environmental impact. Given this background the options being explored in the Middle East to adopt eco-friendly practices while assembling green buildings also manifest that this is a world of complex choices and the Middle East Construction business needs to ensure that more is gained than lost in the entire grand sustainability scheme.
The United Nations Climate Change (COP25) conference had Secretary-General António Guterres warning us that a “point of no return” on climate change is “in sight and hurtling toward us.” This is true. The case construction projects that are undertaken currently must be built on renewables. The issue however is the cost of these raw materials or the intermediaries like transportation of goods that could be quite an expense or the lack of experienced labour [Read more in Khyati Mitra’s interview in this issue] and lastly the availability of the experts who can design to satisfy the needs of the consumer and the environment.
“Over recent years, the industry has strived to understand its impact on the environment, innovate its methods and process and its resource use. In driving a sustainable industry across the Middle East, the construction industry has made considerable progress in its overall impact” reminds Cynthia Corby, Partner and Regional Construction Industry Leader, Deloitte Middle East.
Money matters and so do the technologies to solve climate change. Energy efficiency solutions, renewables, electric vehicles, and climate-smart agriculture are all well-understood and relatively easy to deploy but do have implications for the user. In many cases, the buildings built may not suit the customer’s aesthetic taste but are designed to ensure that the environment is best taken care of. It has been estimated that In the Arab world, about $230bn per year is needed to achieve the SDGs. Most of this investment will come from the private sector. But governments in the Middle East have big levers they can pull to mobilise this finance and channel it towards sustainability projects.
The world is watching the Arabian region as the next two UN climate change conferences will be held in Egypt (COP27 in November) and the UAE (COP28 in 2023), making it imperative to establish the Middle East’s climate credentials. The annual summit’s focus has shifted from simply setting carbon reduction targets to actually implementing them. Middle Eastern governments must make a pledge that translates into actions that unlock green investments.
According to the MEI at an individual building scale, it is stated that sustainable development especially sustainable construction faces different — but equally difficult — challenges one of the most important being the region’s hot and arid climate. While it is common knowledge that the rapid growth of many of the region’s cities was only possible with the help of the great energy resources discovered under its sands, it is perhaps a less known fact that these cities require great energy supplies to keep them habitable given the way they were planned and built.
In the latest, the Moroccan government, announced the establishment of a national charter for sustainable development and the environment, while the governments of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, and Jordan have started introducing energy efficiency standards for its construction. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and professional organizations in Jordan, Qatar, and the UAE have established green building councils in their respective countries intending to promote sustainable design and developing — or importing — green building rating systems. In Yemen, according to stats, it is estimated that around 6,200 direct, 4,700 indirect and 11,000 induced jobs are to be created by 2030 from solar PV. The King Abdullah University of Science in Saudi Arabia employs many forward-reaching green features while Msheireb Downtown Doha promises to be the world’s largest sustainable community with 100 buildings using an average of a third less energy.
The truth is that green buildings are not just an environmental advantage for the Middle East, but also an economic and social one. Should one compare it with traditional buildings it has been proven that the long-term operating costs are significantly reduced energy consumption, reduced emissions, improved water conservation and management, temperature moderation, and reduced waste. According to EcoMena, Avoiding scarce natural resources, like water, and opting instead to recycle, can cut down building costs by an estimated 10 percent.
Apart from concrete, steel rods are key components that hold buildings together, but emissions from their production are leading to environmental degradation in a big way. The manufacturing process for a ton of steel releases two tons of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. This damage can be reduced by replacing fossil fuels with hydrogen for producing metals. The UAE and Saudi Arabia are already on track to extracting green hydrogen by separating hydrogen molecules from the water via solar-powered electrolysis, [Read Issue 12] but the other countries still have some way to go.
Having worked extensively on hydrogen fuels, Emirates Steel and Abu Dhabi’s National Energy Company Taqa have partnered to produce green steel. Oman’s state-owned firm OQ is also planning to invest in green steel and cement production. Saudi Aramco has already begun to form global partnerships to increase polymer concrete and fiberglass bars to replace metals in construction. With the prices of natural gas and renewable energy steadily declining and the prices of coal rising, green steel is becoming a viable option to eliminate construction costs.
AI technology is revolutionizing every industry and is even assisting Sustainable Construction in the Middle East. 3D printing has led to the elimination of tons of construction waste. As the designs are finalized, the printer knows exactly how much material is needed saving excess material transportation costs for different components, which can print on-site.
With technology surpassing human expectations, recycling desert sand, construction waste, and ceramsite are the new in-thing for sustainable construction. In recent times, the UAE took the world by storm when it designed and constructed a traditional villa in Sharjah through a 3D printer. Dubai is home to the world’s largest 3D printed building, which is 9.5 meters high, with a food area of 640 square meters.
Beyond this, 3D-printed construction reduces labor costs since only three people are enough to build an entire house.
There are alternatives to making construction in the Middle East eco-friendly, but first, identification of the sector’s carbon footprint followed by strict legislation enforcing the use of green materials is of essence without which sustainable construction becomes a choice over a compulsion. Developers are required to be aware of the long-term cost benefits of metals and cement created using renewable energy or recycled waste. Merely planting more trees won’t help unless emissions from concrete jungles are completely relinquished.
Economically the entire Arab region is looking at a powerful economic integration, given that the UAE, Egypt, and Jordan entered into an industrial partnership to promote sustainable economic growth to ensure economic diversification and resilience and explore opportunities for joint investments not too long ago.
“The partnership embodies the vision of President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to enhance industrial integration with Arab nations and the rest of the world so we can achieve a major leap in the industrial sector and transform its potential as an economic driver. The industry is the backbone of the world’s largest economies,” Sheikh Mansour said in a statement.