A Net Zero Economy

The Role of Buildings – Part 1

I have been asked to write a series of articles to address the contribution of the building industry to a net-zero economy ambition.  This first one is a reality check.

A net-zero economy target is motivated by the harsh realities of climate change, but in tangible terms is really about a transition that will affect all sectors, all businesses and our lives.  This is a reality and the faster we embrace this, the more successful we will be. 

Production and supply lines are changing continuously.  Disruption is around us and value chains are being repurposed.  Economies will need to become more regional, local and certainly circular.  Our talent whether professional or trade needs to be reskilling and upskilling. 

This is an evolving story and it is our obligation to seek to repurpose what we do.  We are called to design a world that contributes to a net-zero economy.  The process of building and how spaces we designed and built is a significant influence on the more efficient use of natural and intangible resources and respect for building users and owners.

This is a compelling ask of real leadership that will make this change tangible.  Expectations of society are changing and will continue to be demanding of the industry and of all of us.  The government will interact with businesses and businesses with technology and talent.  Emphasis will be placed on innovation and measurement of the true improvement of current practices.

We all have a role and responsibility.  This is an opportunity.  We must adopt a critical thinking approach while persuading our peers and leading the industry into a bright and responsible future.

The articles that will follow intend to inspire and motivate real, tangible aspirations and actions for true change and to get us all to establish our role in this transition.

The Role of the Built Environment – Part 2

Following on from the reality check put forward in Part 1 of this series of articles now is the time to ask what this really means to us individually and collectively.

A low-carbon future could, and should, be substantially superior to the present.  This future envisions and aspires considerable innovation in the fields of energy efficiency, renewable energy resources material science and circular economy with finance flowing in this direction.  Liberating considerable resources to this ambition will generate lots of co-benefits in society’s quality of life. 

This road map for all economic activities is equally relevant to the building industry.  Considerable work, investment and innovation need to flow into the process of design, construction, manufacture, operation and the full life cycle of our building inventory in Malta.  This applies equally to new buildings as well as the renovation of our current stock and motives the much-needed uplift this industry needs.

This means that we must be doing things differently.  In decarbonizing the building and property market (please note national commitments already exist) will not happen if we do not change what we are doing considerably.  All architects, engineers and project managers have the moral and professional obligation to understand this calling, upskill themselves and advise on these changes.  Banks will shortly be making this point strongly as any short-sightedness by the building industry seeking finance will be faced with discrimination and rigour.  The Banks themselves are setting net-zero dates for their operations and this will transcend into the industry whether we like it or not.  A net-zero future is a measurable absolute ambition which cannot be met by limited relative improvements but rather by the collaboration of strong industry leaders who will inspire others in the wake.

The building industry and all of us need to wake up and smell the coffee.  The industry should be creating true value to the overall economy that is not only measured in short-term gains to participants but should respect the resources that enable it.  Malta aspires to be a quality and reputable destination for business, investment, tourism, and all economic sectors.  The building industry must support this ambition in urgently producing quality building and urban assets which are valued to recognized international standards.

The Role of the Built Environment – Part 3

COP 27 UN Climate Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, organised in mid-November 2022 has agreed on the need of a fund for climate ‘loss and damage’ in response to the expected damages and losses to be experienced by the most vulnerable on our planet. Malta’s risks are tangible and real and our collective pledge to transition to a
net-zero economy before 2050 while also needing to prioritise climate adaptation will require us all to take leading and responsible roles as professionals would.

Therefore clarity of our personal and professional role in this decarbonisation journey is a true priority as this will define and drive our direct and indirect efforts with tangible social and economic effects.

There is no doubt that all economic sectors will go low-carbon – and this is not limited to investments in renewable energy and away from fossil fuels. This
transition will include major sectors such as building and infrastructure, transport, heavy industry, aviation, haulage and others.

This kind of prioritisation of an economy will bring benefits to a country’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) values which are (and will remain) in very high demand by an ever-maturing society.

If we are clear that improved efficiency of resource-use actually saves money and generates growth – if we are aware that innovation will help our and all industries be cleverer to get more out of our scare resources – if we truly understand that the resulting co-benefits of such a transition will improve human physical and mental health by multiple percentage points in our GDP – then our personal and collective next steps are obvious.

Planning must focus on compact and connected cities which will reduce congestion and hence uplift productivity and wellbeing. Such initiatives will drive attractiveness and liveability of our villages and cities by promoting cycling and walking with resulting neighbourly interaction. These actions will in turn attract productive high-skilled, high-paid talent to our nation.

If we do our part – in a professional manner – driven by correct and honest values – doing what is right – and being accountable to our actions – we stand a chance of transitioning our planning and building industry into one that will enable communities to thrive, develop resilience to the expected challenges and ensure long term economic competitivity and attractiveness.

The Role of Economic Players – Part 4

Malta, as an island nation, is clearly dependent on its building industry for economic growth and development. However, this industry has also been a significant contributor to the country’s carbon footprint and a high consumer of Malta’s natural resources. To address this challenge, Malta has set a goal to decarbonize its economy, which includes the building industry, as part of its Low Carbon Development Strategy.

The Malta Low Carbon Development Strategy outlines the key actions and initiatives necessary to transition to a low-carbon economy, including the building sector. To achieve this, Malta must repurpose its building industry to reduce its carbon footprint and improve economic resilience while focusing on the reimagined economy we need to be accountable to future generations.

One of the key actions that Malta needs to adopt aggressively and decisively are the design and implementation of resource-efficient buildings through consistent and robust regulations. These regulations will ensure that new buildings are constructed with materials and technologies that reduce their energy consumption and carbon emissions while retrofit work will be repurposed with similar ambitions. This will not only reduce Malta’s carbon footprint, but also improve the resilience of its building stock to extreme weather events and rising temperatures, while lowering operational cost and improve competitively.

Another important initiative is the promotion of further renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, to meet the energy needs of buildings. This will not only reduce carbon emissions, but also continue to create new economic opportunities and jobs in the renewable energy sector.

To further support this transition, Malta also needs to invest in training, retraining and capacity building for its construction workforce while supporting the development of our local social capital. This will ensure that workers have the skills and knowledge necessary to support low-carbon building technologies to support the shift towards our committed ambitions.

Finally, Malta needs to work closer with the private sector to incentivize investment in low-carbon building technologies and practices. This includes providing tax incentives and other financial support to address existing market failures.  Responsible economic reform will need to take this into account.

In conclusion, Malta’s building industry has a critical role to play in the country’s transition to a low-carbon economy. We have a lot to do and the transition is urgently necessary.  By repurposing the building industry to reduce its carbon footprint and improve economic resilience, Malta will enable a thriving population set on true sustainable values that drive longer term wellbeing. The Malta Low Carbon Development Strategy provides a roadmap for this transition and lays the foundation for a sustainable and resilient future.


  • Second Edition June/July 2022,
  • Third Edition September/October 2022
  • Fourth Edition December/January 2023
  • Fifth Edition March /April 2023
A Net Zero Economy

David Xuereb

About the Author: David led significant professional practices serving the built environment with offices in many parts of the world and currently active in change and risk management in relation to ESG, Decarbonisation and Climate Change.

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