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Africa’s COP must urgently tackle decarbonisation

Decarbonisation is one of a multitude of acute challenges that cities in the Global South must tackle – but it needs to be a priority – a blog provided by JLL.

With the built environment responsible for around 40% of carbon emissions, COP27 must focus attention on driving action around cutting emissions, mitigating the increasing impact of climate change and building resilience.


And as ‘Africa’s COP’, its incumbent on the real estate sector to deliver solutions for a more sustainable built environment across the continent and the Global South.


Cities in the Global South are growing rapidly: according to the UN, major cities in Sub-Saharan Africa such as Dar es Salaam, Kinshasa, Lagos, Luanda and Nairobi will see their populations grow at around 4% p.a. between now and 2035. COP27 hosts Egypt has 106 million inhabitants and is growing by 2 million people every year, with plans for 40 new cities.


Rapid urban growth brings significant challenges for authorities and for local communities such as low standard of living, environmental degradation, congestion, overcrowding, social inequalities, security, and affordability. In many cities, construction of new buildings and housing stock is barely keeping pace with population growth; some cities have seen the proliferation of slums. 


Many countries in the Global South haven’t yet ‘carbonised’: Africa’s population is currently home to around 17% of the world’s population, yet it accounts for less than 6% of global energy consumption and 4% of global carbon emissions. Unlike developed cities which need to shift focus from new build to retrofitting, much of the building stock and infrastructure that will exist in fast growing emerging cities has yet to be built. This represents a huge opportunity to build sustainably, unburdened by legacy investments and contention over the embodied carbon in existing buildings.


Cities in the Global South are well positioned to learn from the experience and mistakes of the Global North to develop their cities in a more sustainable way by adopting a whole-city or district approach to planning, with focus on future proofing. From inception, large-scale developments and whole neighbourhoods can be planned to incorporate on-site renewable energy and district energy systems. Technology can be an enabler; finance is fundamental. 


At COP27, developed countries will be asked to at least double collective adaptation finance for developing countries from 2019 levels by 2025 to help deliver public finance necessary to unleash private sector investments, which immediately help reduce emissions and impacts, such as in climate-resilient green infrastructure and nature-based solutions.


New buildings should be designed with adaptability and versatility in mind. This will enable a building to accommodate several functions, which can be changed over time without need for major renovations or demolition and rebuilding. Consideration for embodied and whole life carbon should be embedded into new construction from the start. Carbon-conscious construction along with regenerative and circular building principles can mitigate the impact of development. 


The Global South can take advantage of the latest technology and eco-friendly construction methods and materials (e.g., prefabricated, modular housing). 


Adopting new approaches could allow cities in the Global South to accelerate progress towards creating a decarbonised built environment (just as the African continent moved straight to mass mobile phone use, bypassing fixed-line telecommunication infrastructure). 


It could also help these cities to attract investment and create green jobs. International investors and corporate occupiers, mindful of meeting their own corporate net zero targets at a global level, will increasingly consider sustainability in location decisions. 


Decarbonisation is just one of a multitude of acute challenges that cities in the Global South must tackle yet it needs to be a priority. While the technologies already exist, there is a need for financing and delivery at scale. City governments can play an important role in facilitating this as well as fast tracking regulations similar to those appearing in many American and European cities and enforcing minimum standards.


Such steps are key to driving progress. Like in the Global North, inaction now will only lead to greater problems in decades to come. 


As we convene at COP27, we need an ‘all-in’ approach in two senses. Firstly, working together through partnerships and knowledge sharing will be critical. Secondly, we must go beyond simply cutting carbon; the best sustainability strategies embrace a holistic approach, in which the drive towards decarbonisation and its implications are considered alongside social outcomes. 


Let’s not lose this opportunity to put people back at the heart of the built environment and create a better future for all. #BuildingToCOP27.