While populations are growing, and the need for safe and sustainable housing increases, building nothing may seem like a careless ambition. However, we are running out of materials and resources, and at COP27 the role of the construction sector was discussed.
A truly sustainable sector
In the Nordic pavilion, SUSTAINORDIC gathered Kirsten Dunlop, CEO of Climate-KIC, Audrey Nugent, Director of Global Advocacy of the World Green Building Council and Kurt Emil Eriksen, Senior Political Advisor at VELUX for a discussion on what it takes to obtain a truly sustainable construction sector. A sector where minimal new material is added to the building mass, where any virgin material added is biased and sustainably sourced and where the vast material bank stored in the existing building mass is kept in the loop and recirculated back into new buildings or into retrofit of old ones.
How will we reach this goal?
The panel agreed that nothing short of a paradigm shift is required to get us there. The panel also discussed how, over the past years, we have managed to reduce the energy use in our buildings drastically, while the gain in energy savings has been replaced by a drastic increase of square meters per capita. This has resulted in a net CO2 loss rather than a gain. And, although regulation is picking up on the problems, we are still only regulating a very tiny fraction of the lifespan of a building legislation since important considerations like safety and health sometimes end up standing in the way for material circulation or fast introduction of sustainable alternatives.
The panel also agreed that the problem, and hence its solution, is tied deeply to our cultural norms - built up over centuries. According to the panel, the current economic system does not allow us to change the fundamentals of business as usual. We keep discussing solutions that directly relate to the capital market: pricing, offsetting and carbon markets which lock us into a growth paradigm.
In a society driven by market economy, the panel suggests that the first thing we can do is to internalise the price of carbon and environment. If CO2 is not seen as a currency, we will not reach carbon neutrality.
Sharing is caring
To break these patterns, the panel argues that we need to show a viable alternative. An alternative based on sharing of resources. But this requires a mind-set shift and a fundamental change of society. We need to rewire our cultural norms to embrace new understandings of ownership, value and aesthetics.
Paradigm shifts take a long time and do not happen by themselves. With only seven years left to turn the ship, the panel identifies a strong need for immediate, profound and ambitious political push. We need regulation and policy economic incentives to help us share and make optimal use of resources, spaces, materials and ownership
Investing in the future
In the panel’s view, we have held back action for far too long because of the cost and the complexity of the needed change, failing to understand the counter factual risk. But as we are starting to experience the consequences of climate change all over the globe, we begin to understand that the cost of not acting is so much bigger than that of acting. It is an investment in the future.
To continue this important discussion, please join us for the event #UIA2023, July 2-6 2023 in Copenhagen.
Watch the full debate below (begins at 2h 40minutes).