A Practical Approach to Implementing Net Zero in the MENA Real Estate Sector

By: Tamara Bajic

Date Published: May 31, 2022

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Globally, the building sector represents an estimated 13,450 MtCO2 or 40% of the global GHG emissions, while the UAE building sector annually emits a total of 1 MtCO2. It is important to consider that these figures consist of around 65% of operational carbon and 35% of embodied carbon emissions over the average buildings’ life cycle. The sector needs to switch its focus to reducing the carbon footprint and collaborate with the value chain players to mitigate the climate change effects. In the coming years, the UAE real estate sector may be subject to regulatory requirements designed to drive a transition to net zero, and will need to think about how to meet those requirements while adding value and driving change.

If we are to meet the UAE’s targets to Net Zero by 2050, the real estate sector must act now! However, the UAE’s targets alone will not deliver the outcomes needed – Net Zero must be driven by industry collaboration, science innovation, and government support, but more importantly – real estate players themselves.

Reducing Carbon Emissions at the Early Design Stage

Planning in the early design stages of the construction life cycle is a key step to achieving new presented values. Understanding and minimising the building construction impact on it’s upfront embodied and operational carbon should be the value chain focus.

Below are some of the key actions to consider while designing a building and planning for construction:

  1. While designing any type of the building, start with assessing the upfront operational and embodied carbon emissions. Building operations and raw-material processing are the largest carbon emission (GHG) contributors along the construction value chain
  2. Define the operational and embodied carbon targets and use the Whole Life Cycle analysis to optimise the embodied carbon, reduce the operational carbon and integrate Circular Economy principles
  3. Integrate embodied carbon reduction principles: a. Build smart and know the carbon impact of the “big ticket” items – the upfront embodied carbon (A1 – A5) can be addressed by minimising material quantity and low carbon optioneering b. Design for durability and adaptivity c. Design for utilisation of renewable energy sources (impact on operational carbon)


International Energy Agency, 2018 statistics (www.iea.org)

LETI Climate Emergency Design Guide, 2021 (www.leti.london)

Reducing Carbon Emissions at the Operational Stage

The most important step in defining the operational Net Zero for a building, is defining the range of operational emission sources that need to be covered (scope and boundary). The scope of operational emission sources will support setting the baseline for defining the targets and achieving net zero carbon. The boundary defines the commitment to address material sources of emissions in its value chain.

We have defined an approach to achieving the building’s operational net zero. Below are some of the key actions to consider.

1. Set a baseline: Quantification of the carbon footprint is a necessary step to understand the building’s contribution to global warming and set asset’s baseline. It includes collection of emission source data, review and estimation of emission source monitoring gaps, trend analysis and carbon emission conversions applying the related factors. The carbon emission monitoring is an activity which should follow an annual cycle against the set targets.

2. Set a target: To demonstrate the leadership on climate action, set a target which will allow you to publicly demonstrate the commitment and reduce your GHG emissions in line with the climate science. The initiative supports corporates in setting effective targets aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement to limit the global temperature rise to well below 1.5 – 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

3. Progress against the set targets:  Undertake a study to understand the key consumption trends and its impact on the operational cost. This will help assess the key pain points and determine ways to reduce the carbon emissions.

Below are the global trends to refurbish and retrofit your emission sources:

  • Energy efficiency measures
  • System optimisation & electrification
  • Waste management strategies
  • Transportation optimisation
  • To fully transition to net zero, the key final step should be taken to offset the residual carbon emissions

4. Publicise achievements: Inclusion of new net zero commitment in the communication plan to public, management, value-chain stakeholders, and internal team is recommended to ensure the value chain awareness. Public disclosure of annual achievement reports is highly recommended through internationally recognised standards, such as SBTi to attract further investment opportunities, and gain recognition for achievements. Some of the most recognised reporting frameworks / platforms are the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) and Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). In addition, Net Zero Asset Managers Initiative (NZAMI) which encourages asset managers to work with their clients to ensure that all assets under management (AUM) meet with the net zero goals set by the asset manager. Another highly recommended framework is the Task Force on Climate-Related Disclosures (TCFD) disclosure framework for public and other organisations.

Approach to achieving operational net zero carbon

Transition to Net Zero by offsetting the residual carbon emissions

There is great value in offsets to compensate for and neutralise the impact, while facilitating positive social and environmental impacts.

Achieving Net Zero in the Built-Environment requires engagement of all value-chain players. Every player can make a difference, capture opportunities, and together lead to better results.

The government, developers, facility managers, architects and investors can influence the design and planning, while contractors can have an impact on the construction of new buildings and upgrades to the existing old buildings. To achieve the operational excellence, tenant engagement in the operational emission reductions effecting and enabling the achievement of the overall Net Zero Initiative. Landlords and tenants must work together to meet the net zero targets.

How to engage stakeholders and tenants in the Net Zero initiative?

As part of the net zero journey, it is crucial to engage with the stakeholders across the value chain, to raise awareness and announce the commitment. Organising regular awareness sessions with select management teams, investors, tenants, and other stakeholders to showcase the progress, achievements, and next steps, will increase the target alignment, stakeholder participation and overall attitude towards sustainability. In addition, tenant emission reductions might impose a potential risk to overall net zero achievement. These risks can be mitigated by providing complete trainings to tenants on the best practices, forming the task force to streamline the implementation, and updating the lease agreement to include “net zero / green” clauses.

*The following are a selection of a number of internationally recognised standards and guidance for net zero carbon in the Real Estate industry. We assess the applicability of each standard dependent on the needs of each client on case by case basis.

How can AESG help?

AESG is a specialist consultancy, engineering and advisory firm headquartered in London, Dubai, Riyadh and Singapore working on projects throughout Europe, Asia and Middle East. We pride ourselves as industry leaders in each of the services that we offer. We have one of the largest dedicated teams with decades of cumulative experience in sustainable design, fire and life safety, façade engineering, building commissioning & digital asset management, waste management, environmental consultancy, strategy and advisory, acoustics, and carbon management.

Tamara Bajic

Senior Sustainability Consultant – Strategy and Advisory

Tamara is a Senior Sustainability Consultant at AESG. She holds a Masters’ degree in Environmental Engineering with specialisation in the fields of Energy Efficiency, GHG Emissions and Decarbonisation.

Her sustainability journey in the UAE started with a 6-year engagement with the Dubai Government, as part of the DSM PMO office, implementing the Energy Efficiency (DSM) Strategy in Dubai across 11 programmes and more than 10 key government sector stakeholders and private sector market players. She has led and supported with the design and execution of key activities: DSM PMO office establishment (institutional mechanisms & procedures, organisational objectives, priorities, budget requirements), implementation of operational plans and roadmaps, DSM savings monitoring and evaluation (via data collection, modelling, top management presentations), Capacity and Awareness Programmes.

As part of the AESG Strategy & Advisory team, she has expanded her expertise to accompany government and private sector to plan and implement their Net Zero/Decarbonisation, ESG and Sustainability journey as it evolves over time.

She supports clients to understand their key Net Zero drivers, reporting requirements, following with the design of a tailored Net Zero strategies, roadmaps, action plans, timelines, budget requirements and supporting tools to successfully implement their decarbonisation initiatives and achieve Net Zero goals.

For further information relating to specialist consultancy engineering services, feel free to contact us directly via info@aesg.com