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Which digital technologies are making the difference in developing a more circular construction economy in the future?

Digitisation and sustainability transitions are inextricably linked. What would be the best role for government to ensure digitisation will contribute to the transition towards a sustainable society? The Dutch Council for the Environment and Infrastructure is in the process of preparing an advice that will touch upon this question. As part of the preparatory process, the Rli commissioned a series of essays. Today, an essay on the role of technology in making a difference in developing a more circular construction economy is published.

The construction and maintenance of housing, offices, roads and other infrastructure represent the third largest resource footprint in the Netherlands (at 32 million tonnes). The sector also accounts for the highest level of raw material consumption across all sectors (at nearly 29 million tonnes). Hence, the construction sector is a key sector in making the sustainability transition.

Scenarios for creating a more circular construction economy have to date included two main strategies – calls for zero demolition and radical changes in the ways we produce buildings. In this paper, the authors of the paper consider these scenarios and explore the potential for digital technologies to make a difference in developing a more circular construction economy in the future.

In what follows, the paper first presents a brief overview of current achievements to introduce circularity in construction. This highlights three key accomplishments, including the drive to document and inventorise building materials that can be recovered, reused and recycled; the development of prototypes, pilots and processes for circularity with a strong focus on designing for deconstruction, and; the creation of knowledge sharing platforms to build a network of actors to take forward lessons learnt on circular building processes. Thereafter, the second part of the paper will focus on identifying the possibilities and current problems faced with using digital technologies to support efforts to create a more circular construction economy. Read More 

Latest publication: A changing sea

The Advisory Council for Sustainable Development of Catalonia (CADS) published the translation of its advisory report entitled ‘a changing sea: Recommendations for the sustainable management of the marine and coastal environment’. The report builds on actions taken by the Government of Catalonia with a view to ensuring their contribution to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 14 of the UN 2030 Agenda  and their medium- to long-term transformative potential, in accordance with the magnitude of the challenges and, especially, the opportunities related to the so-called “blue economy”.

The report also aims to develop the Government of Catalonia’s leadership in the promotion of the Integrated Maritime Policy (IMP) in Catalonia and contribute to compliance with the EU’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), which has set 2020 as the deadline to achieve Good Environmental Status of EU marine waters.

The recommendations included in this CADS report are geared towards making progress in the sustainable management of the marine and coastal environment, making the conservation of the marine environment compatible with the socio-economic activity that takes place in it or directly affects it, in line with the United Nations 2030 Agenda. Read More

Replay your favorite part of the 28th EEAC Annual Conference

The 28th  EEAC Annual Conference took place over three days from Tuesday 27th October to Thursday 29th October. A diverse mix of experts, academics, councils and policy makers contributed to this exciting and unique event, which comprised of a mix of keynote speakers, panel discussions and spotlight sessions. If you wish to replay certain sessions or contributions, make sure to click here because the integral video registrations of the whole 28th EEAC Annual Conference are online now!

EEAC / TUM High level exchange

The EEAC Network together with the Think Tank of the Technical University of Munich (TUM), and the TUM Sustainability Task Force organized a high-level exchange on the role digitalization can play in meeting climate neutrality and sustainability target. Furthermore the session focused on how recent political developments, and in particular the outcome of the US election, may impact on implementation of the European Green Deal.

The programme

16:00 to 16:10. Welcome and introductory comments.
Gerhard Kramer, Senior Vice President for Research and Innovation, Technical University of Munich (TUM).

16:10 to 16:45. “Towards our Common Digital Future”
Prof. Dr. Martina Fromhold-Eisebith, RWTH Aachen University & Wissenschaftlicher Beirat der Bundesregierung Globale Umweltveränderungen (WBGU).

16:45 to 17:25 “Realizing A Carbon-Free Future – How Google Is Fostering Sustainability at Scale”
Dr. Wieland Holfelder, Vice President Engineering & Site Lead, Google Munich.

17:25 to 18:00 “The US Presidential election: Implications for the European Green Deal”
Prof. Dr. Miranda Schreurs, Prof. of Climate and Environmental Policy, TUM School of Governance/HfP & European Environment and Sustainable Development Advisory Councils (EEAC) network, Vice Chair.

Each presentation of approximately 20 minutes was followed by discussion.

Latest publication: Housing Policy: Actions to Deliver Change

Bold action is urgently needed to fix our dysfunctional housing system and deliver more affordable homes in Ireland. This is the central message in a new report from the Irish National Economic and Social Council (NESC).  That action should be focussed on bridging the supply gap by actively managing land and locational value for public good; and bridging the affordability gap by engineering-in permanent affordability.

Speaking on the publication of the report Dr Larry O’Connell, the Director of NESC said ‘the Council considers that ‘The dominant business model results in a land-price trap. Development is normally close to the margin of viability, and competition is happening at the wrong stage, within the volatile land market rather than in the housing market’.

The Council’s research concludes that fundamental change is required to move to a permanently affordable, stable and more sustainable system of housing. ‘Direct public-policy influence is needed now to make affordable development happen.  The Council is setting out the actions necessary to bridge the key gaps in supply and affordability’ Dr O’Connell said.

The NESC report outlines actions under three headings.  First, institutional change is required to ensure key public actors have a strong developmental mandate and the executive capacity to drive sustainable urban development, including:

  • Establish the Land Development Agency (LDA) on a statutory footing as a matter of urgency with an enhanced mandate, including to provide land for social housing, and equip it with a planning role and the tools to assemble land and engage in direct development (including compulsory land acquisition/CPO, master-planning, and land value capture); and
  • Create specialist teams, potentially within the LDA, to help local authorities undertake necessary, complex tasks around procurement, site-unblocking, CPO and master-planning.

Second, more impactful application of existing measures can spur more affordable development in the near-term, including:

  • Establish a national cost rental programme at scale, with access to land on favourable terms, low cost finance, and with conditions to ensure that homes remain subject to public ownership the rents are affordable;
  • Tailor the application of Part V to make it more effective by increasing the proportion which must be ‘affordable’ but tailored on a ‘county-by-county’ basis following housing-need/demand analysis, allowing 5 or 10 per cent increments, applying it to all housing units, and provide policy incentives for cooperation; and
  • Introduce separate Serviced Sites Fund/LIHAF/URDF funding streams focused on high impact, in terms of the number of affordable houses provided and clear link to compact growth.

Thirdly, new solutions or ways of working around long-standing challenges must be devised, including:

  • Tackle the persistent ‘on-off balance sheet’ conundrum by exploring with the LDA, AHBs and others the potential of a new affordable rental scheme that combines State and capital market investment, which can transition from being initially on balance sheet, to being off it;
  • Examine how the State could be supported to acquire land—both zoned and undeveloped and not currently zoned residential—in designated development areas at existing use value plus some premium as per the Kenny Report and the All-Party Oireachtas Committee;
  • Examine the use of Land Value Capture instruments, tailored to specific sites, that could be used by the LDA and other institutions; and
  • Identify and systematically address any barriers (e.g. land value register) to the development and introduction of a Site Value Tax.

Further, the report recommends a national programme of flagship projects as an important method of demonstrating how a system-wide approach to change can deliver tangible results, and be a catalyst for innovation in the vital construction sector. (The full set of Council recommendations can be found in the report at www.nesc.ie)

Dr O’Connell said that prior to the Covid-19 crisis Ireland faced significant challenges in the housing sector including insufficient housing output, acute affordability pressures in the private rental sector and high unmet need for social housing. ‘The Council believes that the response to the pandemic, the Programme for Government, and the upcoming review of the National Development Plan provide a new context in which to consider urban development, land management, and housing supply and affordability’, he said.

New release: Rethinking Land in the Anthropocene: from Separation to Integration

Only if there is a fundamental change in the way we manage land can we reach the targets of climate-change mitigation, avert the dramatic loss of biodiversity and make the global food system sustainable. The German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) proposes five multiple-benefit strategies illustrating ways of overcoming competition between rival claims to the use of land. These should be promoted by five governance strategies, especially by setting suitable framework conditions, reorienting EU policy and establishing alliances of like-minded states. Read More

EEAC Network welcomes its newly elected board

The Annual Plenary Session (APS) of the EEAC Network (re-)elected five board members on October 30th 2020.

The APS elects a board to facilitate the functioning of the network. The board consists of a Chair (Mr. Arnau Queralt Bassa), Vice Chairs (Prof. Dr. Miranda Schreurs and Dr. António Abreu), Secretary (Prof. Dr. Eeva Furman) and Treasurer (Dr. Ron Hillebrand).

The board will start its work in the weeks to come, and will present the EEAC Annual Plan 2021 in due course. For more information click here

Inspiring speech by H.E. President Michael D. Higgins addressing the 28th EEAC Annual Conference

The President of Ireland, H.E. Michael D Higgins addressed the 28th EEAC Annual Conference on October 29th 2020. The presidents speech, entitled ‘Delivering a Just Transtion for all’ touched upon the concept a just transition, public investment, embedding the lessons from COVID, and just recovery.

The President underlined that ‘ COVID-19 has resulted in huge suffering and tragedy around the globe, but it has occasioned a near-widespread agreement on the necessity of public spending, and of a fundamentally new, socially, economically and ecologically sustainable, future. For us in Ireland, the NESC report is surely an invaluable departure point for deliberative dialogue on how we can best do this with the most favourable outcome for all. It offers a solid framework for ongoing discussion, but also the necessary action that can garner public support from all concerned’

The President’s speech can be seen through this link. If you prefer a written version, please click here.