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Buildings have major impact on carbon emissions

Climate change is real, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said in his recent budget speech.

This means South Africans need to be smart, diligent and brave to reach the low-carbon future the National Development Plan needs, says Dorah Modise, chief executive of the Green Building Council South Africa.

The issue of sustainability came up throughout Mboweni’s budget speech.

The role of buildings within the sustainability debate and national budgeting is relevant, as is the significant impact the building sector has on our natural and urban environment, Modise says.

“Worldwide, buildings contribute to around a third of all carbon emissions through their construction and operation, and consume almost half the planet’s energy, including 40% of end-user energy consumption and waste generation, and 12% of fresh water usage.”

The National Development Plan acknowledges that the challenge of poverty and the environmental threat are linked and that a future characterised by much lower carbon use in all sectors is the only realistic option.

The longer peak-hour congestion in cities shows the sluggish economic effect of carbon-intensive policies and building practices. Building on urban outskirts, coupled with private car-based urban mobility, has resulted in resource-intensive sprawl.

Property economist Francois Viruly describes faraway housing settlements as “poverty traps”. They are often placed where residents live far from jobs and are forced to spend about 40% of household income on transport.

Where people live matters and has a direct impact on their future.

Modise says even in a consistently very low-growth economic environment, focusing on energy, resource and environmental efficiencies throughout the design, construction and operational phases of buildings is gaining popularity each year.

“This is because building green is not only the right thing to do to enable environmental transformation and social gains but also achieves economic impact with accelerated property values, reduced operational costs, higher rentals and, importantly, tenants who are able to provide a more comfortable, healthier and more productive space for their staff.”

Green buildings outperform non-green buildings in every area of benefit and match them on cost.

But building green is not enough, Modise says. That’s why the C40 Cities South Africa Building Programme commitment by the mayors of Cape Town, Joburg, Pretoria and Durban, to developing stringent energy efficiency requirements for new buildings, is vital. The intention is to accelerate development and implementation of energy-efficiency policies and programmes for all new buildings in cities by next year.

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