30 January 2023
Miquel Nijsen, Senior Sustainability & Energy Analyst, Longevity Partners
As we embark on this New Year, a select group of scientists are busy at work, studying a shortlist of nine specific geographical sites, in search of the location on planet Earth that best represents human-made change. These sites range from the coral reefs off the coast of Australia to the vast ice caps of Antarctica. All nine of them will be meticulously studied with the goal of establishing the official start of the most recent geological epoch: the Anthropocene. Later this year, members of the on the site that illustrates most accurately the human-induced geological changes to the Earth’s strata – or rock layers. This decision could effectively end the preceding 12,000-year epoch of the so-called Holocene, officially acknowledging the profound impacts humans have made on the Earth’s conditions and processes.
Our buildings as agents of environmental change
When dissecting the complexity of the Anthropocene, a good exercise would be to view the built environment as an agent of change, since architecture is a significant driver of territorial transformation. The destruction of natural habitat and ecologies for raw building materials and natural resources, the extensive use and demand for these materials, and the production of pollutants and greenhouse gases (GHGs) that they bring about, all highlight the important role of the built environment as one of the principal drivers of environmental change. Given the unprecedented rise of urban growth since the Industrial Revolution, it is also no surprise that the built environment contributes to over one third of global emissions – with cities in general being responsible for over 75%. Thus, it is no longer adequate to view buildings as objects that are made of geology; we must instead view them as agents which can shape geology.
The anthropogenic changes we experience today characterise the challenges that urban areas face in numerous ways. For instance, the materials needed for construction not only deplete already scarce resources, but their carbon footprint is also immense, which further exacerbates the emission of harmful GHGs. Next to that, the demand for resources in terms of energy, food, and water needed to support growing urban populations is a challenge that is further driven by Net Zero pledges, governance, and global crises – as exemplified by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Furthermore, the physical consequences of climate change are increasingly felt across the globe. Urban areas are largely unprepared for these consequences and the built environment is oftentimes not designed to withstand the intensification and growing frequency of extreme weather events, such as heavy precipitation and flooding, heat stress and prolonged droughts, and excessive wind speeds. Therefore, urban areas should be regarded as being at the epicentre of mitigation and adaptation efforts aimed at strengthening their resilience and curbing the negative consequences of the Anthropocene.
To learn more about the adverse effects of climate change on the built environment, read this article by our Longevity experts.
The unequal challenges of climate change
There are many global efforts in place to try and combat the negative effects of climate change. Several important milestones have been reached with the Kyoto Protocol of 1998 and the Paris Agreement of 2015, in which countries agreed to reduce national GHG emissions with the aim of limiting the increase of global temperatures to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels by the year 2100. In the recent 2022 Conference of the Parties (COP27), the Sustainable Urban Resilience for the next Generation (SURGe) initiative was established, which aims to accelerate urban climate action through multilateral partnerships, finance, and capacity building, as well as the use of technological advancements. Such initiatives are particularly relevant for cities in the Global South, which are not only disproportionally affected by the effects of climate change, but also often lack the adaptive capacity to deal with them. Herein, the absence of finance, weak institutions and other priorities are regarded as some of the main issues.
Are we heading in the right direction?
Using the same analogy, we are in fact collectively in the “same boat”; a boat that is sailing the threatening seas of the Anthropocene. Hence, global partnerships are imperative to bridge the differences in responsibilities and capabilities needed to navigate through this new epoch.
Currently, we see that the Global North is trying to achieve the ambitions set out in international treaties such as the Paris Agreement or through the Net Zero targets that are shared amongst the EU and the United States. As a result, developing countries succeed in reducing their contribution to global emissions – albeit slowly. At the same time, however, we see that emissions in the Global South are still on the rise. One of the main challenges here lies in the fact that governments in lesser developed countries are unable to provide the necessary means to reach international goals and targets, and to prepare their countries for the effects of climate change.
Paying the price for the Anthropocene
Is it time for nations in the Global North to claim their share of responsibility and act upon the challenges of the Anthropocene? If so, it is essential that investments are made to increase the adaptive capacity and resilience of urban areas in the Global South.
A study from the UN estimated that by 2050 approximately $500 billion per annum will be needed to adapt to climate change, a figure that was well off the mere $30 billion that was invested globally in 2022. Despite this, a potentially promising step in the right direction is the historical agreement that was reached during COP27. Two weeks of negotiations culminated in the establishment of the ‘Loss and Damage Fund’, an initiative that has been called into life to provide financial assistance to the developing countries that are most vulnerable to climate change. The initiative has come at a time where more and more nations in the Global South are expressing their anger towards the hefty price they must pay as a result of climate change.
The AWG casting their votes on the shortlist of nine geographical sites may not have come at a better time. Indeed, if the International Commission on Stratigraphy decides to officially mark the start of the Anthropocene with the Global boundary Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP), also known as a ‘golden spike’, we will no longer be able to shy away from acknowledging the unprecedented changes humans have made to the Earth’s natural systems and processes. If it wasn’t clear enough already, this would also be the perfect signal for us to forego any excuses not to act.
Reimagining our own future
Therefore, the formal recognition of the start of the Anthropocene would present international organisations, governments, and private actors with the golden opportunity to play a pivotal part in ensuring that we are, in fact, all aboard. It is our task for it not to be a sinking ship. To start, we’ll have to reconstruct the way we regard the built environment as an actor that orchestrated the Anthropocene – and simultaneously became a casualty of it-, to an actor that strengthens its resilience and drives positive change globally.
Although finding the magic bullet to initiate this transformation seems an impossible task, small steps can make a profound impact. For instance, property investors engaged in developing economies, such as those of the OPEC countries, could accelerate global efforts by eclectically applying the highest regulative standards across their portfolios and throughout their pre-acquisition due diligence processes.#
How can Longevity Partners help you?
At Longevity Partners, we can help you navigate the pre-acquisition process by identifying the present and future climate risks. By conducting due diligence audits in the pre-acquisition process which integrate climate risk, your business can assure that assets remain ahead of policy and investor demands and simultaneously drive the movement for asset managers to incorporate climate mitigation within the asset’s hold periods to achieve improved exit valuations.