The South African government announced its commitment to reducing 34 per cent of carbon emissions by 2020, but a number of crucial changes will have to be made before reaching the target.
“It’s an incredible target. [It’s] a fantastic achievement by our government to have committed to that. We’re now left on the ground to make it happen and it’s going to be a difficult one to achieve,” WSP Green by Design director Eric Noir told CNBC Africa on Monday.
The task of meeting the target is however likely to put renewed pressure on the current built environment.
“I don’t believe that we’ve managed to change our energy mix substantially and move away from a carbon intensive energy mix we have at the moment. That option is probably not available to us. We will make some inroads into renewables but that’s not going to make 34 per cent,” Noir explained.
“The morphologies of our cities is not going to change materially again within that time frame. Our cities are becoming more normal, moving away from the apartheid planning, but again that’s not going to resolve the intensity of our energy consumption in movement in mobility.”
There is however, a chance to make significant progress in existing and new buildings. A number of reports have targeted Africa as the next hub of green cities in future, and a number of African counties have begun using environmentally-friendly building materials in construction. Green buildings and materials are nonetheless just a small aspect of the greater plan of a green city.
“A collection of green buildings is not going to make a green city. The fundamentals of a city is about density, infrastructure, about the ability not to live in one place and travel two hours of commute to get to work and back,” said Noir.
He added that cities in general take a significant amount of time to shape and mature even before turning green.
Cities also go through cyclical movements of decay and rejuvenation before the green aspect becomes a part of the timeline. The transition from green buildings to cities is already in underway, with a number of buildings utilising open plan offices as a means of utilising space and materials more economically.
“By moving away from cellular offices to open plan offices – and it’s not just about taking partitions away – we find that we can better the space, probably reclaim about 30 per cent of spaces, which would otherwise be lost in corridors and walkways,” said Noir.
“It fosters much greater collaboration amongst people, we find that the quality of the work coming out of the floor is much better, people are happier and the interesting part is that it talks to sustainability.”