Building sector uniquely positioned to push green economy: UNEP

The green building and construction sector is in a unique position to help create a global green economy, an official from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) told conference participants at this week’s International Green Building Conference (IGBC) in Singapore.

UNEP’s chief of sustainable consumption and production Dr Arab Hoballah, speaking on behalf of UNEP executive director Achim Steiner, said buildings represent the intersection of economies, society and the environment, and that close collaboration between government and the private sector could provide the momentum badly needed for creating a global green economy.

A green economy is broadly defined as one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, in addition to a healthy environment.

He told the opening plenary session that the building sector represents 10 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) and employs 111 million people worldwide. To accommodate growing populations, particularly in cities where 80 per cent of people are expected to live by 2030, the sector will spend an estimated US$100 trillion over the next 10 years.

The sector’s influence on jobs, investment and the built environment, which includes housing, urban planning, industry and infrastructure, is matched by its environmental impacts.

It accounts for roughly one third of greenhouse gas emissions, 40 per cent of energy consumption, one quarter of water consumption and a significant portion of other resources such as metals, timber and sand. The world’s existing buildings consume 60 per cent of electricity produced globally.

Dr Hoballah said that sustainable buildings could help create green economies, meet social needs, such as poverty reduction and affordable housing, and at the same time reduce the environmental stresses created by past development.

“Greening the building sector can really help us in transforming into a green economy because of its relation to all the other sectors,” he added.

As an example, he said, the building sector has a high potential for decent work and pay, an important factor in the growth regions in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, where poverty reduction and the provision of quality housing is a priority.

To mobilise the green building movement - and by extension, the economic, environmental and social benefits it brings- there is an urgent need to capitalise on the increasing interest in sustainable building, noted Dr Hoballah.

He recommended encouraging private investment in green buildings through government incentives and regulations, identifying ways of increasing available public and private capital and by educating builders and owners about the economic benefits of green buildings.

He also urged governments to share effective ideas on urban planning and policies, and to prioritise sustainable buildings at local and international forums such as the upcoming Rio+20 summit in Brazil.

Singapore, which has a target of greening 80 per cent of its building stock to meet high environmental standards by 2030, is hosting the IGBC conference this week at the Suntec Convention Centre with a view to meeting some of those objectives.

Dr John Keung, chief executive of the Republic’s Building and Construction Authority (BCA), who also spoke at the opening plenary, provided an account of Singapore’s journey in greening its building sector.

Since the launch of its Green Mark certification scheme in 2005, which rates buildings for its environmental impact and performance,  BCA has certified 12 per cent of Singapore’s total building stock.

Dr Keung said BCA used the Green Mark scheme to introduce a range of game-changing policies which promoted green buildings. Some of those policies include incentive schemes that allocate extra floor space to developers who achieve high green building ratings and regulations that require new buildings to meet minimum green building standards.

Newly-introduced policies this week by BCA included audit requirements for existing buildings and loan guarantees for financing energy efficiency improvements.

Other strategies Singapore adopted are public awareness campaigns and training programmes to increase the skills needed for green building growth. BCA’s training academy has trained about 3,200 workers to date in sustainable design and construction.

Such measures have the potential to lead to a 50 per cent reduction in the energy use of buildings, even using existing technologies, said Dr Keung. “Action is needed now to unlock the potential that lies in inefficient existing buildings,” he added.

UNEP’s Dr Hoballah noted that action at the city level is already leading the way to low carbon growth, and the urban planning experiences of those cities should be shared. But cities cannot do it alone, he added, they need partnerships.

“The potential for partnerships is enormous, but much more cooperation is needed to speed up and scale up this transformative change,” he said.

“If we can really put our green investment in the right place, we can get out from the business as usual scenario. We can still grow, but in a positive way – one that can help us preserve the resources we need to meet our needs,” he added.

Eco-Business.com’s coverage of the International Green Building Conference 2011 is brought to you by City Developments Limited.

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