Sustainable construction could help Mena region cut emissions by 60%

Strategy is also expected to boost employment, with 4.3 million new jobs created each year by 2035, report says

Saudi Arabia is building a $500 billion futuristic city called Neom along the Red Sea coast. Photo: Neom
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Innovative and sustainability-focused construction technologies could help the Mena region reduce emissions by up to 60 per cent and create 4.3 million new jobs annually, as regional plans are in place to invest $2 trillion in new projects by 2035, a report has shown.

The construction boom across the Mena region offers an “extraordinary opportunity” for it to become a pioneer in the development and use of sustainable technologies and techniques for the built environment, Strategy& Middle East, part of the PwC network, said in a report on Thursday.

The built environment includes buildings, neighbourhoods and cities as well as supporting infrastructure systems such as water supply and energy networks. It is responsible for about 37 per cent of energy use, 39 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions and 40 per cent of material use globally, according to the report.

Countries in the Mena region, especially in Gulf Co-operation Council countries, are investing heavily in new projects, with new cities taking shape as they focus on diversifying their economies away from oil.

About 30 high-profile mega projects, such as the construction of the futuristic city Neom in Saudi Arabia, Qatar’s Lusail entertainment city and the DP World/Emaar Mina Rashid Redevelopment project in the UAE have already been confirmed, with other projects in the pipeline.

Saudi Arabia is investing $500 billion in building Neom on the Red Sea coast.

“The size of the investment will have a substantial economic impact. It represents a little over 10 per cent of gross domestic product for the region annually, and we estimate it will create about 4.3 million jobs per year. But the essential challenge is the extent to which the investment will drive innovation in sustainability,” the report said.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia, the Arab world's two largest economies, have set ambitious targets to reach net zero in the coming decades.

Saudi Arabia aims to reach the target by 2060 and the UAE by 2050. The two countries are investing heavily in developing new renewable energy projects and the adoption of environmentally friendly technologies.

UAE's first net-zero buildings

UAE's first net-zero buildings

The report said technologies and innovations needed to rethink the built environment that already exists and what might be developed in the near term, such as solar photovoltaics, greener construction material and artificial intelligence-enabled systems in buildings.

However, other innovations are nascent and require additional investment. Regulators would need to play a role in stimulating demand for the technologies, including through the inclusion of green building codes, according to the report.

Developers would also need to embrace sustainable construction techniques and set emission reduction targets. Sovereign wealth funds and other financiers are also essential to jump-starting and driving the transition, potentially by setting net-zero aspirations for the developments they are financing.

The report provides 17 “high-potential and actionable applications” across several areas to reduce emissions. These include areas such as mobility, managed landscapes, development density, mechanical systems and construction processes.

Wastewater can easily be treated at the site of generation, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 90 per cent and decreases energy consumption from pumping water to the treatment site, the report said.

Recycled roads and pathways can reduce “embodied carbon” by more than 90 per cent and can be half as costly as traditional asphalt roads while also requiring less energy for their production. And green roofs can make roof surfaces 30 to 40 per cent cooler.

Updated: November 21, 2023, 12:20 PM