THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
By exploring the six regional visions in parallel, we can start to build a picture of built environments in 2050:
- People’s hopes and desires for what their homes and buildings will be like
- The critical role homes, buildings and cities will play in protecting people globally from the effects of climate change
- How technology, design and urban planning can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and change the way we live
The built environment is intrinsically linked to the climate: its carbon footprint, its ability to withstand more challenging and unpredictable weather, and its ability to help people lead low-carbon lives. Its design plays a large role in informing a climate-resilient 2050; by then, our built environment might look and feel very different.
From greener cities that are designed to create cool,comfortable streets, to smart technologies that reduce the energy consumption of homes, a range of innovations and interventions will become the norm by 2050. When combined, they will not only help to give people a sense of safety and security in the face of a changing climate, but will also enable more sustainable lifestyles.
Workshops for the project showed that people want to see the benefits of a better built environment - from new economic opportunities to enhanced biodiversity. There is also a desire to make sure that developing countries and marginalised communities can engage with the transition in an equitable way.
As temperatures rise, both old and new technologies can help keep buildings comfortable. In the Arabian Peninsula and Africa, traditional architecture designs including cooling wind towers can provide an alternative, or a supplement, to active cooling, helping to protect against the intense heat. Increasingly, air conditioning systems will be powered by local renewable energy sources such as rooftop solar. In places like India and Brazil, where rural populations and those living in informal settlements currently have limited access to power grids, this may be essential for liveability by 2050 as temperatures rise.
Resilience against weather
By 2050, homes will need to provide resilient and sustainable protection against tropical storms, floods, heatwaves and other extreme weather events. For example, in India, increasingly severe storms (especially cyclones) will cause more damage to infrastructure and livelihoods, and further intensify saltwater intrusions in storm surges. Meanwhile, in Jamaica, which is already highly vulnerable to tropical storms, affordable and sustainable building materials like bamboo may be used in storm-proof building designs, to provide protection against the elements. Protection will also come from the restoration and preservation of natural storm barriers, such as mangrove swamps and sand dunes.
NEW TECHNOLOGIES, NEW MATERIALS
The built environment is responsible for a big percentage of direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions in many regions - 40% in the UK, for instance – and thereby holds significant potential for contributing to the net zero transition. Smart, energy-saving technologies in our homes are likely to become increasingly important as we approach 2050.
The choice of methods and materials used in home construction, and the built environment more broadly, also need to be reconsidered. Technologies to decarbonise the manufacture of a construction material like cement, which underpins much of the world’s built environment and is responsible for 5% of global emissions, must be applied and scaled well before 2050. In tandem, local, sustainable timbers and recycled materials will also play an important role.
Some nations will need to renew or replace large portions of their built environment – for example, informal settlements, which may become increasingly uninhabitable in a changing climate. The energy efficiency and embodied carbon of any replacement stock must be considered from the outset if new buildings are to be compatible with a globally net-zero, climate-resilient future.
Rethinking the city
Simple interventions can make existing cities and built environments more liveable. Urban tree planting reduces street temperatures, both by providing more shade and through transpiration cooling. Enhanced infrastructure may also make active transport, such as walking and cycling, more popular and more viable.
The concept of a ‘15-minute neighbourhood’ – where daily essentials are within easy reach by foot or bike, thus encouraging more sustainable behaviour – might also become more commonplace by 2050. In some parts of the world, planned city developments demonstrate a perspective on one possible future of sustainable urban development.
BUILDING A JUST TRANSITION
Globally, access to comfortable and safe living environments is currently unequal, as well as within countries and regions. On top of this, the immediate impact of climate change will vary hugely around the world: low-lying coastal regions in the tropics, for example, will be at a much higher risk of storm damage.
A globally net-zero, climate-resilient world will need to address these problems, facilitating the transition to more resilient and more sustainable built environments globally, and particularly in poorer and developing countries.