Arid climate, oil consumption and Climate Change
Written by Cintia Imperico MSc Sustainable buildings
The challenges on bringing sustainability to an extreme environment besides the environmental concerns, also includes social, cultural and political behaviours. As sustainability mainly relates to the wellbeing of the occupant and the preservation of the environment, every sector of the industry is involved, not just architecture and the construction sector, therefore even the amount of printings you have in your office and waste of paper it matters for the environment.
Climate change is not just a problem for the generations to come, but a real fact that is happening now, and we should make the right decisions to revert our lifestyles, adapting ourselves to a more eco-friendly conduct. The GCC countries, which include the United Arabic Emirates, Kuwait, Kingdom of Bahrain, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Sultanate of Oman and Qatar, have the highest CO2 emissions and energy consumption per capita in the world, according to the Global Sustainability Assessment (GSAS).
Air pollution and Fossil Fuel depletion is directly related to CO2 emissions and the Greenhouse Effect, leading to higher temperatures worldwide. Carrington, D. (2015) claims that extreme heat waves could push the Gulf climate beyond human endurance, especially Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha and Iran’s coast. It is also mentioned that temperatures like 45oC would become the usual summer maximum in Gulf cities and Kuwait City can experience 60°C at times.
To compensate, the use of Photovoltaic panels can be very useful. With a clear, bright sky for most parts of the year in the Gulf countries and one of the highest amounts of insolation worldwide, it is still a huge question as to why they are not exploring as much as they can with the use of PV panels. Another technology that is easy to install and makes good use of the climate are wind turbines. For example, Saudi Arabia has natural high wind speeds and open lands, which are a powerful source in generating renewable energy.
Another important aspect of sustainability, especially related to the arid climate, is how to access water. With the lack of rain, buildings should develop alternatives to harvest and store water. According to GSAS, the GCC countries rely 100% on desalination, which impacts negatively on the environment and requires 15MWh to generate one million gallons of desalinated water. Therefore, clean water for these countries depend on energy generation provided by non-renewable sources, increasing the amount of CO2 emissions.
Currently, villas in the Gulf area are mainly being built with oil based materials such as the use of insulation materials with Polyurethane. Builders are claiming that this is the most efficient material for the building envelope, as it is made from a non-renewable source. However, the oil-based manufacturing process for this material is highly unsustainable, therefore it is important that other renewable materials are sourced such as rock or mineral wool.
It is also interesting that Dubai and Abu Dhabi, with their international way of building using well-renowned world-wide companies and importing materials, are not as advanced in the market of sustainable materials as they are in building technologies. Following the sustainable principle of cradle to cradle the sourcing of materials is critical to any kind of building, where one of the criteria for reducing CO2 emissions is considered from the beginning of the manufacturing process to the stage of construction. This should be within the radius of 500mi from the site.
Sources: Carrington, D. (2015) Extreme heatwaves could push Gulf climate beyond human endurance, study shows. The Guardian; Al Zawad, F., Aksakal, A. (2009) Impacts of Climate Change on Water Resources in Saudi Arabia; Gulf Organization for Research and Development (2016) Global Sustainability Assessment system (GSAS).