Heavy carbon footprint construction techniques in Pakistan vs.
low carbon footprint construction in the developed world

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Category: Blogging

By Zahaab Rehman

Introduction to Carbon Footprints:

The term carbon footprint is now increasingly used in environmental conversations, but what does it actually mean? It’s essentially a way of mapping the amount of greenhouse gas emissions caused by any specific activity, whether undertaken by individuals or by a group. The construction industry is infamous for its CO2 emissions and the hazard it poses to our environment. Several materials used in almost every construction project are heavily responsible for releasing vast amounts of CO2, such as reinforced concrete, glass, stone, and steel, among many others. But in light of the environmental discourse that has opened over the past few decades, industries are becoming more conscious of their impact on the environment and actively trying to reduce it. This brings in the idea of sustainable building goals, which aim to reduce the carbon footprint of a construction project and the building created through it. The issue here is that this process depends on awareness, among other factors, and is easier in theory but more complicated in practice. This article intends to draw a comparison between the construction techniques in the developed world and Pakistan, gauging whether there actually exists a difference.

Is the developed world actually producing less carbon?

From the outset, the general perception is that the developed world is better with environmental awareness and hence, must contribute less to global emissions. This idea is reinforced due to the developed world’s improved technologies, but does it actually hold weight? Let’s take a look at a few numbers. Overall, the global carbon emission numbers are much higher in the developed world than in countries like Pakistan. China and USA are the top contributors to global carbon emissions, with China emitting more CO2 overall, but USA’s numbers being higher if considered per person. Other sources also list the USA as producing more CO2 than China by all measures. But collectively, these two countries produce at least 40% of the world’s carbon emissions, followed by Russia, Germany, and the UK. Where does Pakistan fall on this list? Our country emits almost0.5% of global carbon emissions. Then why are we branded as the one with a higher carbon footprint? The construction industry contributes to 39% of global emissions, and the developed world has begun using some sustainable techniques. These techniques have not yet made their way to Pakistan, so it might seem like we’re utilizing methods that produce more carbon, specifically in this industry. When viewed holistically, all industries combined, the developed world emits more carbon than many developing countries combined.

Impact of Construction Industry in Pakistan on Carbon Emissions

Rapid urbanization has been the root cause of many issues in Pakistan. The phenomenon has led to unplanned city infrastructure growth, which begets unsustainable practices. The exploitation of non-renewable energy resources, poor building design, and lack of sustainability cause our construction industry to emit high levels of greenhouse gases. With several other complicated issues plaguing Pakistan, introducing sustainable building design has not yet become a key goal for the country. Individual studies have been carried out on buildings in Pakistan that determined the use of certain materials to be a significant reason for these carbon emissions. As discussed previously, this includes materials like brick, steel, and concrete, which are heavily used in almost all construction projects in Pakistan. In addition to the carbon emissions, these materials also impact the topography of the land they’re built on, causing desertification, land erosion, and dereliction. And with the heavy urbanization currently happening in Pakistan, these problems keep on increasing. The term ‘concrete jungles’ has been termed to describe areas in Pakistan due to the acres of luxurious construction built on the destruction of natural habitats and forestation. A less-discussed problem is the production process of the brick itself. In Pakistan, brick production is a significant industry and uses a highly contaminating technique. In this traditional method, handmade bricks are baked in brick kilns, producing a range of environmental hazards. All sorts of fuels are burnt in these kilns, creating a range of air pollutants.

Where does the issue lie?

The governance. Take this example; for instance, construction and climate change were both key agendas laid down by the previous government, but a connection between the two was not drawn. The National Housing Policy did not address the environmental element of the infrastructure industry, leaving a gap that could be easily exploited. For every public sector development project, a mechanism is used to determine the environmental impact before the project begins. But due to a lack of strict compliance and other malpractice issues, these bylaws can easily be evaded. The private sector is not sensitized enough to these issues anyways, so at the end of the day, the problem comes in from both sectors.(Randhawa, 2021)

The Solution? Low Carbon Footprint Techniques

The developed world has been talking more readily about low-carbon infrastructure for a few years, earning them the title of being more environmentally friendly. But the conversation has also opened up in Pakistan in recent times. Technologies that began in the developed world are now being transferred to Pakistan as well. An example is the Vertical Shaft Brick Kiln (VSBK) technology, which originated in China, and now has two pilot projects in Islamabad. The technology presents an alternative to the traditional pollutant method, offering a safer way of producing bricks. In a nutshell, the developed world has succeeded in creating various sustainable technologies, and Pakistan can gain numerous benefits from their adoption.
Low-carbon infrastructure is now an absolute need of the hour, so it’s high time we start investing in our own sustainable practices. Some small-scale practices have already begun, such as projects by (Yasmeen Lari and the Heritage) Foundation, which have been functional since the 2005 earthquake Other techniques that we can adopt are:
● Better technologies
● The use of low-carbon cement
● Off-site construction
● The use of sustainable materials
● Water efficiency in the construction industry

The possibilities are literally endless, but the work needs to begin full-scale right now. Or else, we’ll have reached a place from where it’ll be challenging to reverse the damage. The developed world has started its journey, Pakistan needs to speed up its own.

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