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CallisonRTKL Reveals Five Key Trends in Building Net-Zero Cities in the MENA Region

Updated: May 22, 2021

Industry experts from CallisonRTKL (CRTKL), the global architecture, planning and design firm, have revealed five key trends for developing net-zero cities in the Middle East and North Africa region. Experts highlight the need to ensure sustainable construction materials, use design processes and tools to enable sustainable construction, implement smart cooling systems, and foster wider industry collaboration as key pillars of further net-zero development in the region.


Energy used in net-zero cities, be that in development or use, is offset by using renewable energy sources to produce zero net energy consumption. With governments across the region pursuing key clean energy strategies over upcoming decades, including the UAE’s Clean Energy Strategy 2050 and Saudi Arabia’s Green Saudi Initiative, enabling net-zero development across the region is a key aspect of driving wider sustainability savings.

The announcement comes following CallisonRTKL’s recent launch of their new open-source platform, CLIMATESCOUT. The tool combines data with images, allowing planners to design buildings that respond to their environment by providing climate-specific design advice. The company has further committed to two significant goals across its some 2,000 projects under design worldwide. All projects will be net-zero carbon for operation by 2030 and carbon neutral (including embodied in construction materials) by 2050.

Matthew Tribe, Principal at CallisonRTKL, commented: “The MENA region is globally recognised for pioneering new technological sustainability solutions, yet with the region’s climate and economic growth strategies, enabling net-zero cities presents a challenge for planners in the Middle East to overcome. Our vision for regional sustainable development is premised on collaboration across the architecture and design sector, using data-focused digital tools to drive industry-wide learning and understanding.

Matthew Tribe, Principal at CallisonRTKL
Matthew Tribe, Principal at CallisonRTKL

“CallisonRTKL’s pursuit of net-zero development across the global architecture sector is demonstrative of the wider climate issues which the world is facing and how the design and construction industry has to meet its obligations as a sector. Through fostering new forms of industry-wide collaboration, we hope to part of that broader conversation on enabling net-zero development that can benefit all.”

The five key trends for enabling net-zero cities in the region are:


1. Zero Embodied Carbon


One of the central barriers to net-zero development can be selecting construction materials that developers are using. Mining, transportation, and manufacturing building products have significant environmental costs: concrete, iron, and steel production produce around 9% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Not only do materials have environmental costs created solely in their production. They may be inefficient in helping a building optimise its energy consumption and can also be environmentally costly to dispose of.

Net-zero developers in the region have to consider a significant range of factors when designing buildings, choosing materials that are not environmentally costly to produce, transport, or dispose of. While in other regions, materials such as timber enable net-zero development, the Middle East has to be innovative in adapting and reinventing products to offset carbon emissions during manufacture.

2. Performance-Driven Design


Not only do regional designers have to consider a range of environmental performance factors when assessing building materials. The whole design process must be driven by enabling social, economic, and environmen