In the heart of Dubai, on December 7, 2023, the American University in Dubai hosted a pivotal event during COP28—Housing Matters. This initiative, a collaboration between the Middle East Cities Center of AUD, UN-Habitat's World Urban Campaign, and FIABCI International Real Estate Federation, brought together a diverse assembly of government officials, business leaders, professionals, educators, and researchers. Their mission: to confront the looming global housing crisis and explore avenues for more resilient and sustainable cities, aligning with Sustainable Development Goal 11.
As participants gathered, the event kicked off with an immersive experience at the AUD Auditorium, setting the stage for meaningful discussions. Cynthia Samaha, Manager, Office of Outreach and Career Development, initiated the opening session, welcoming participants alongside the AUD Director and UN-Habitat Executive Director, Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif who highlighted the pivotal role of housing as the world is facing a significant gap, with currently more than two billion people lacking adequate housing, requiring the production of 96,000 unit a day to address the crisis, while thriving to decarbonise the construction sector, contributing to more than two third of greenhouse gases emissions worldwide.
Dr. Mahmoud AlBurai, Director of the Middle East Cities Center, then underscored the urgency of addressing the housing crisis and exploring new avenues for solutions, particularly coming from the private sector.
The highlight of the event was the launch of the "Housing Matters" global campaign, spearheaded by Dr. Neil Khor, Director of External Relations, Strategy, Knowledge and Innovation Division. This campaign, aiming for a holistic approach to global housing issues, provided a platform for organizations to commit to the cause. He announced the call to action crafted by the World Urban Campaign partners (HERE). Partner Organizations present at the meeting had the opportunity to share their views and commitments to the new campaign.
The subsequent debates delved into crucial topics. The first, "Decarbonizing the housing sector for Livable Cities," featured a panel including Susan Bridge, Edmond Chammas, Aref Boualwan, and Aditya V. Bahadur. Panellists explored the role of housing in decarbonizing cities, emphasizing planning, private sector engagement, green solutions, and addressing challenges faced by vulnerable communities.
Prof Susan Bridge addressed the role of housing in decarbonizing cities that involves adopting diverse instruments and policies, notably through thoughtful urban planning. Initiatives prioritizing sustainable, mixed-use neighborhoods can lead to deep transformations. For instance, comprehensive urban development plans integrating residential, commercial, and recreational spaces, strategically located near public transportation hubs, can reduce reliance on individual cars, subsequently lowering carbon emissions. Incorporating energy-efficient building designs and renewable energy sources further contributes to carbon reduction, fostering social cohesion and economic sustainability.
Edmond Chammas and Aref Boualwan explored the private sector's engagement in decarbonized housing solutions for addressing housing challenges. Anticipated to play an increasingly significant role in the coming decades, the private sector can contribute through innovation in construction materials, energy-efficient technologies, financing models, and collaboration with governments. In the Middle East, where rapid urbanization is occurring, aligning business interests with sustainability goals becomes crucial. Challenges such as balancing profitability with sustainability and navigating regulatory frameworks must be addressed through continued collaboration between governments, communities, and the private sector. Private sector and startup initiatives are driving promising green solutions, including sustainable building materials, energy-efficient technologies, circular economy practices, prefabricated sustainable homes, smart grids, carbon offsetting platforms, and green financing solutions. These innovations collectively contribute to a more sustainable and climate-resilient housing sector, showcasing the dynamic role of private sector and startup innovation in addressing climate challenges.
Aditya V. Bahadur elaborated on the risk that poorer communities may be left behind as the housing sector decarbonizes. Challenges contributing to this risk include affordability concerns, limited access to technology and resources, policy and regulatory gaps, lack of community engagement and education, infrastructure disparities, and the potential for social equity issues. A holistic and inclusive approach is essential, involving the development of policies prioritizing affordable and sustainable housing, fostering community engagement, and investing in infrastructure to ensure equitable access to decarbonized housing technologies. Collaborative efforts from governments, private sectors, and communities are vital for ensuring the benefits of decarbonization are shared across all socioeconomic groups.
The second debate, "Education for Employment - Towards a Green and Sustainable Habitat," examined the necessary education for new job opportunities in the green housing sector. Panelists Mariam Aljenaibi and Omran Al Hajri shared insights, followed by a dynamic floor debate involving AUD students.
Christine Auclair, the moderator, concluded the event with inspirational messages, emphasizing the collective responsibility to build a sustainable future.
The event culminated with a group photo capturing the diverse voices and expertise that united under the banner of Housing Matters. Against the backdrop of dynamic music, participants left with a shared commitment to transforming the future of housing and cities.
HousingMatters Call to Action - learn more