SA cities commit to net zero carbon buildings

If South Africa has any hope of meeting its global climate change commitments, there needs to be massive change at every level. While seemingly unattainable at first, delve a little deeper and there is encouraging news to show the path is being forged.

South Africa’s four major metros – Johannesburg, Tshwane, Cape Town and eThekwini committed to the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Declaration (NZCBD) at the Global Climate Action Summit from 12-14 September. This is a greenhouse gas emission busting commitment striving for all new buildings to operate at net zero carbon by 2030, and all existing buildings to operate at net zero carbon by 2050. The goals have been set and we know what we are striving for.

In South Africa net zero carbon means that a building will be extremely energy efficient (think major lighting an HVAC retrofits) and the little energy it does require to operate will be generated by renewable energy – preferably on-site, at second best off-site. Official carbon offset programmes are the last resort if needed.

The NZCBD affirms some of the goals already set. All four cities are part of the C40 South Africa Buildings Programme and the C40 Climate Action Planning in Africa Programme.  A total of 68 cities are committed to city-wide carbon neutrality by 2050.

What happens on the ground

As an example, the City of Cape Town is working toward amending building energy requirements and by-laws so that soon, if you don’t have a net zero building planned you are unlikely to get permission to build.

For Cape Town, the goals mean enhancing the City’s existing Energy 2040 goals and Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plan to meet the new levels of ambition by 2030. “The City of Cape Town is considering a range of approaches and interventions to meet the ambitions of the commitments. These include the development of ambitious building energy performance requirements for new buildings and precincts city-wide; retrofit plans for existing buildings, incentive packages to promote net zero carbon buildings and precincts and accelerating the transition to a cleaner energy supply. The City also has two dedicated staff members with specialist expertise working on each of the programmes: South Africa Buildings Programme and the Climate Action Planning in Africa Programme, supported by C40 and Sustainable Energy Africa (SEA),” explains Lesley Sibanda, C40 – SEA technical officer: energy efficiency in new buildings in Cape Town.

This was reiterated at the City’s Energy, Water and Waste Forum held in early September, where the message was that ‘future-proofing’ operations to reduce reliance on conventional water and electricity supply, would strengthen the economy for investment and job creation.

Practically, this means that once the proposed new building energy performance requirements come into effect as a by-law or as national building regulations, they would be applicable to all new developments and all projects would need to demonstrate that they achieve net zero carbon before approvals can be granted.

Something property developers should take note of.

Efforts to enhance Cape Town’s resilience as a whole are key to facilitating future investment and protecting existing enterprise,” said Cape Town’s Councillor Xanthea Limberg at the forum, recognising that people don’t want to put their money in places where there is the risk of having the water and power cut off.

Building a culture of energy efficiency must be prioritised to meet these goals says the City. This is driven in part by voluntary programmes like the Green Building Council of South Africa’s (GBCSA) Net Zero Certifications well as policies and by-laws.

The finer details

Figuring out exactly how the goals can be met, the GBCSA is doing the technical work on how buildings can become net zero and how this can be independently vetted.

The council has developed its Net Zero suite of rating tools, and already five projects have achieved pilot certifications. These are: 78 Corlett drive in Johannesburg, The Estuaries at Century City in Cape Town, Greenfield Industrial Park in Cape Town, the Vodafone Site Solution Innovation Centre in Midrand and Two Dam Sustainable near Montagu.

In South Africa, there are the immediate environmental concerns and business risks of water, waste and ecology that need to be prioritised, and this is why the GBCSA has Net Zero certifications for these as well, and not just carbon.

The GBCSA differentiates between modeled and measured Net Zero certifications. Modeled certification proves that a new building or a major refurbishment has been designed or built to meet certain targets and is therefore based on drawings. The ‘measured’ certification evaluates 12 months of operational performance of the occupied space. New buildings, existing buildings, precincts, and tenants can achieve this certification.

The certifications are relatively affordable and are being viewed with enthusiasm, particularly by green building consultants who view the net zero challenge as an eminently feasible one. For more on the GBCSA’s Net Zero certifications and case studies on the projects with certifications, visit the GBCSA website.

Cape Town will strive for net-zero carbon new buildings by 2030.
eThekwini will strive for net-zero carbon new buildings by 2030.
Tshwane will strive for net-zero carbon new buildings by 2030.

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