The Malta Independent 8 March 2021, Monday

Restoring the building sector

Tuesday, 23 February 2021, 07:43 Last update: about 13 days ago

Abigail Cutajar

Malta is fully committed to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050, but what does this truly mean? This can be achieved by balancing the amount of carbon released to meet operating energy demands, while offsetting an equivalent amount.

With the European Climate Law, which came into effect in December 2019, the European Commission proposed a legally binding target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This means that all EU Institutions and the Member States, including Malta, are bound to take the necessary measures at EU and national level to meet these targets. As Europe becomes the first continent set to remove as many CO2 emissions as it produces by 2050, where do we stand?

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It is a fact that Malta is the lowest emitter per capita in the European Union, however, we must look beyond this. We cannot argue about what we cannot do and start targeting opportunities which are the backbone to our economy, such as the construction industry. This industry constitutes to approximately 36% of our overall carbon emissions.

Like most countries, Malta has been hit by increasing costs of building materials over the past decades. The fact that we are an island does not make it any easier as most of the materials are imported. Are we doing enough to exploit this industry in the most sustainable and responsible way possible? How can we accelerate the delivery of a sustainable built environment? What is Malta doing to incentivize material reuse or salvaged materials towards our embodied carbon reduction?

Not many people are aware that it is more cost effective to achieve net zero in existing buildings. Revitalising old spaces and introducing technological innovations have become top priorities on this heritage rich island. The regeneration of old urban areas as opposed to new development on virgin land has been identified as the future of the real estate market. The authorities are providing incentives to encourage the renovation and conservation of old buildings and similar incentives need to be launched for the generation of net zero energy buildings. Malta has not yet fulfilled its potential in integrating sustainable energy strategies. The construction sector has huge opportunities to change a grey sector into a brighter and more pleasant one to residents and tourists.

We have never seen a drive for change as much as today. This cannot be a tick box exercise as it was often viewed in the past. Capital and public projects need to spearhead this drive towards low to net zero carbon buildings in a drive towards a circular economy. This needs to be coupled with infrastructure capital expenditure across all sectors, ranging from transport, waste, energy and signature projects such as industry parks and business districts.

The European commission has also launched various programmes to help the construction sector embrace the Green Deal which is vital for the reform of the construction sector. One of those programmes is the Renovation Wave Strategy, which had been launched late in 2020.

The prospects for the building sector remain firm, Malta needs to establish and adopt its own building codes, while setting up a framework for net zero carbon buildings. There has already been a shift introduced with the latest schemes issued over the recent years for instance incentives promoting roof thermal insulation, and double glazing for apertures and doors. This and more is adamant towards a shift in the trajectory for new and existing buildings to achieve net zero. This is based on simple metrics; Assess energy and carbon baselines; Reduce by optimising and upgrading; generate renewable energy onsite; and source and offset offsite, where possible. Finally, a net zero or zero carbon building needs to declare its outcomes and monitor its operations.

By having these open discussions, exploring the possibilities and rewriting norms, we can create tangible change. It is time to create a living future and a world full of living buildings. It is time to restore Malta’s Prominence.

 

Ing. Abigail Cutajar is a LEAD Participant and LEED Accredited Professional in Building Design and Construction. 

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