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Opinions Tue, 8 Sep 2015

Environmental stewardship plays crucial role in sustainable development

By Samuel Hinneh

The physical development of land as well as water resources can have a wide range of direct and indirect effects on ecosystems, biodiversity and vulnerable local communities. Usually, this includes the overexploitation of natural resources and toxic pollution, posing harm to flora and fauna together with contributing significantly to climate change and increased exposure to environmental risks such as floods, landslides, and hurricanes.

The mismanagement of natural resources also negatively affects families, communities and countries. Marginalised groups such as indigenous people, who heavily depend on natural resources for daily livelihoods including food production, are often affected most.

Developers in the construction industry may not always build with the protection of the environment and resource efficiency in mind and may not give sufficient consideration to both the short term costs for the end user, through example higher energy and water bills and to the long term costs to society.

As global leaders, policy makers, civil society, donor agencies as well as the private sector prepare for the next United Nations Climate Change Conference scheduled for late November to early December in Paris, France, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) have outlined issues such as natural resources consumption, energy conservation, choice of building materials, biodiversity, which need to be implemented by national governments and companies to achieve sustainable development.

Environmental stewardship basically involves the comprehensive understanding and effective management of critical environmental risks and opportunities related to climate change, emissions, waste management, resource consumption, water conservation, biodiversity protection and ecosystem services.

RICS calls on governments and companies to carry out early environmental impacts assessments during planning and design process. Environmental impact assessments should consider climate change mitigation and adaptation options in terms of location, positioning and design of the building and building systems as well as include an adequate analysis of expected in use energy consumption and related greenhouse gas emissions explore measures aimed at the minimisation of embodied water, energy and carbon of construction elements.

Also of significant importance is the need to consider the reduction of in-use energy up to ‘near’ passive performance, cost efficient carbon reduction through the implementation of holistic renewable strategies and reduction of embodied energy and carbon.

RICS was invited by the United Nations last year to come out with ideas that could make a huge difference in the construction industry with reference to sustainable development. This rested in the development of the Ten Principles of the United Nations Global Compact. Environmental stewardship, together with human rights, labour standards, and anti-corruption form the core values of the plan.

In an exclusive interview with RICS Director for Europe, Middle East and Africa, Mark Walley, in Accra, he stated that: "The plan is more critical to countries, because the construction industry will build whatever they want to, it is actually an issue for the country either the government or private individual, how sustainable do we want our property development and what impact do we want to have on our climate in Ghana and globally.”

About 70% of resources worldwide is going into building and maintaining property, generating about 50% of carbon dioxide, therefore changes need to take place in the manner of building and maintaining things in the property sector, he says.

"If we carry on as we are within the next 50 years we will need another planet to provide us with all the building materials, all the water, everything else we consume and there is not one.

"We got to change the way we build things, it is not difficult as people have been doing things in the same way for too long that change is difficult and sometimes when you look and making that change and the cost of change, people are unsure about it, but actually the cost issues are not really huge,” Mr Walley said.

Buildings are a key component in the fabric of cities. And the building and construction sector is one of the most important areas of intervention and provides opportunities to limit environmental impact as well as contribute to the achievement of sustainable development goals.

According to Mr Walley, the most industrialised nations have to lead in the campaign for the change, which will create a sense of collective actions among other nations.

"It is easy to look at the USA and the amount of carbon dioxide per head and is massive compared to any other African nation and so there will be a sense of ‘we already behind it’ … to demonstrate that change can be possible,” he noted.
Columnist: Hinneh, Samuel