Sustainable African built environments

11 Apr 2014

Carbon emission scenarios are used as key inputs to the sustainability and built environment strategies and policies of many developed countries. Decisions and direction in these are based on carbon emission models which show the optimum mix of interventions required to achieve carbon emission reductions or stabilization. Developing countries and countries in Africa are now under increasing pressure to adopt carbon emission criteria as the key focus of their built environment policies and strategies. This paper argues against this. It suggests that focusing on carbon emissions is likely to result in limited resources and timeframes being exhausted trying to achieve reductions and valuable opportunities to build long term sustainable solutions will be lost. It also argues that increasingly scarce resources, infrastructure backlogs, the lifespan of infrastructure and buildings (50+ years) and the limited timeframes for addressing climate change mean that African countries cannot address carbon emission reductions first, and then address sustainability later; they need to address both at once. This paper also argues that while reducing carbon emissions may benefit companies involved in renewable energy and energy efficient technologies, it does not lead to sustainability. Sustainability is complex and requires the achievement of minimum quality of life standards as well as a balance between environmental and human systems. Carbon emission reduction technologies, by themselves, will not achieve this. This paper draws on a definition of sustainability developed by the World Wildlife Fund to show how a sustainable development approach can address carbon emissions while building more sustainable systems. It describes the Built Environment Sustainability Tool (BEST) developed by the author in 2011 and shows how this can be used to assess built environments and identify appropriate mixes of interventions to improve the sustainability performance of built environments. It also outlines interventions that can be used to support the development of more sustainable African built environments.