Climate change still remains the biggest threat to the built environment and future of Africa’s cities, a recent report has noted.
The report released by Knight Frank, dubbed Africa Horizons Report 2021/2022 has pointed out that African cities are getting warmer, and it’s bound to get worse. “Extreme weather changes are going to have a direct impact of the environment within cities and increase the move towards urban migration.” The study reads.
Some of the regions likely to be affected by this include the Central and Southern parts of Africa including the capitals of Lilongwe and Lusaka. This prediction is based on the firm’s modelling of geographical information systems data using the Köppen Geiger climate change predictions for 2050.
“These areas are anticipated to shift from a warm humid sub-tropical climate to a savannah climate.” The report says.
Further, in Ethiopia and Kenya, in the suburbs of Addis Ababa and Nairobi, a shift from a humid sub-tropical highland warm climate to a tropical equatorial savannah climate is expected. Secondly, extreme weather changes in rural areas are anticipated to impact on agriculture as a main source of livelihood, ultimately driving still more people to the cities.
The model also illustrates that climate change will impact African cities in two different ways. Firstly, a combination of the urban heat island effect resultant from the impact of ongoing human activities on the urban environment leading to higher temperatures in urban areas compared to rural areas combined with global warming will have a direct impact on the environment within cities.
Secondly, extreme weather changes in rural areas are anticipated to have an impact on agriculture as the main source of livelihood, ultimately driving more people to cities. This is mainly anticipated to take place across West Africa in countries such as Togo, Nigeria and Cameroon.
Generally however, in the global effort to minimize the effects of climate change by drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions, buildings can play a vital role, according to an analysis by the World Bank. They account for 18 percent of total emissions today, and are responsible for 60 percent of the world’s electricity usage, 25 percent of water usage and 40 percent of materials.
Those figures are certain to rise. By 2050, two billion more people will live in cities, a 50 percent increase from today.
“Failure to modernize building construction with energy-saving strategies and materials would substantially increase carbon emissions, rather than drastically reduce them as needed to avoid catastrophic climate change impacts,” the World Bank analysis reads.
According to Tilda Mwai, Knight Frank Researcher for Africa, like many crises before, Covid-19 is likely to inspire an evolution. “Fixing the city is anticipated to be the most urgent post-Covid-19 challenge. While there is no simple solution to climate change itself, it is the built environment that poses the greatest challenge to climate change,” she adds.
The Report also highlights themes such as environmental, social and governance (ESG) as a factor that will continue to take centre stage for property investors across the continent.
The research is however quick to note that while urban heat is yet to reach alarming levels in Africa, increasing urbanisation rates look set to have a significant impact on climate.
Anthony Duggan, Head of Global Capital Markets research states that this rapid shift in perspective around ESG factors has resulted in property investors now having an additional set of criteria to consider when buying, selling or redeveloping assets.
“Appraisals and valuations will increasingly be looking across factors such as the performance of the physical asset itself, the locational risk of where the asset is located and, increasingly, an understanding and measure of the tenant counterpart risk. Collectively this risk assessment is referred to as Climate Value at Risk (VaR)” says Mr. Duggan.
The built environment landscape across Africa is therefore set to change, adapting to the local needs for real estate with a greater emphasis on sustainability underpinned by increasing urbanisation and rising population.
There are currently approximately 700 certified green buildings in hotspots across the continent with the most dominant rating tools being the Green Star (GBCSA), LEED (USGBC) and EDGE (IFC). While South Africa continues to account for more than three quarters of these buildings, rapid green growth has been witnessed across the continent underpinned by a range of factors. These include the turning legislative tide, the availability of a broad range of financing to investors and developers of green buildings and great tenant retention capacity for green buildings resulting in income resilience and increased investor interest.
Already as the report indicates green bonds in excess of US$2 billion had been issued across Africa.
But there is hope
While there is no simple solution to climate change itself, it is the built environment that poses the greatest challenge.
“A report into the efficiency of green infrastructure treatments by researchers from Portland University indicates that urban heat is impacted by six main factors,” Ms. Mwai says.
The good news however is that the building sector also has the greatest potential to deliver significant cuts in carbon emissions at little or no cost. New approaches and technologies tailored to specific local conditions and climates can reduce energy consumption and emissions in the construction and useful life of new buildings.
Green Buildings: Situation in East Africa
A majority of modern buildings in sub-Saharan Africa (mainly tropical climates) are replicas of buildings designed for the western world (cold and temperate climates) and do not account for the differences in climate. As a result, buildings are heavily reliant on artificial means for indoor comfort, which include cooling, heating and lighting. Inefficient design and construction using inadequate materials for the climate, combined with poor understanding of thermal comfort, passive building principles and energy conscious behaviour, has led to tremendous energy wastage and high electricity bills.
Last year, a report compiled by the United Nations Human Settlement Programme (Un-Habitat) called Sustainable Building Finance: A Practical Guide to Project Financing in East Africa showed that the energy used in commercial and residential buildings accounts for a significant percentage of total national energy consumption across East Africa.
“It is estimated that 40% of the total electricity generated in the region is used in buildings alone, consuming more energy than the transport and industry sectors. Inefficient design and construction using inadequate materials for the climate, combined with poor understanding of thermal comfort, passive building principles and energy conscious behaviour, has led to tremendous energy wastage and high electricity bills.” The UN habitat study says adding that improved building designs can create significant gains in energy performance and occupant comfort.
Going forward, the significant building stock additions expected in East Africa in the coming decades make green design practices all the more critical, given the region’s challenges in providing full access to modern energy services.
For the East African market, the availability of finance resources, the economic return to the lead property developer, and the availability of delivery and operations partners for splitting the energy and property assets, needs to be assessed. The aim is to justify to property developers or investors that localised energy asset finance and delivery is market-ready, the financial benefits for lead project sponsors can be realised, and that delivery and operations risks can be managed. This may require support from specialised capital and project preparation finance sources at the outset.