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UN-Habitat Africa’s Vincent Kitio Advocates for Green Buildings to Combat Climate Change

As Zimbabwe faces a daunting national housing backlog estimated between 1.5 million and 2 million units, the focus has traditionally been on securing funding to build sufficient homes.

However, an emerging issue is shifting attention: the impact of traditional building methods on climate change.

Vincent Kitio, the UN-Habitat Africa representative, recently spoke at a workshop organized by the Green Buildings Council of Zimbabwe, emphasizing the urgency of transitioning to green buildings.

Kitio outlined the initiatives UN-Habitat is pursuing to promote environmentally friendly and affordable housing across the continent.

Kitio, who heads the Urban Energy Unit at UN-Habitat, based in Nairobi, Kenya, explained that the organization’s mission is to promote sustainable cities and adequate shelter for all. “Our goal is to develop cities that serve the people, rather than people serving the city,” he said.

This involves advocating for affordable housing and sustainable buildings—structures that are environmentally friendly and contribute to reducing carbon footprints.

“Green building is about going back to basics,” Kitio explained. He referenced traditional houses built with locally available materials like grass, trees, and stones, which were both environmentally friendly and comfortable.

The essence of green building, he said, is to use modern methods to achieve similar goals: protecting inhabitants from the elements while minimizing environmental impact.

Kitio noted that green building principles apply even to large structures. “You can still construct 20-floor buildings, but they need to be properly ventilated to avoid overheating and use locally sourced materials to reduce emissions,” he stated.

The emphasis is on minimizing the importation of materials, thereby reducing the carbon footprint associated with construction.

The urgency of adopting green building practices, Kitio stressed, is tied to the broader issue of climate change. “Buildings consume 40% of energy and are responsible for 30% of emissions,” he said. “To address climate change effectively, we must rethink how we build our houses and structures.”

During the workshop, Kitio introduced EDGE—Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiency—a tool that helps designers assess and improve their designs to produce environmentally friendly buildings. “EDGE ensures buildings consume less water, less energy, and fewer materials,” he explained.

While acknowledging that green buildings can initially be more costly due to the need for imported materials, Kitio highlighted several strategies to reduce these costs over time. “If more stakeholders adopt green building practices and local production of materials increases, costs will come down,” he assured.

Government incentives, such as tax breaks on building materials, can also play a significant role in reducing expenses.

Despite the higher initial costs, Kitio emphasized the long-term economic benefits of green buildings. “Green buildings save money in the long run by maximizing natural lighting and ventilation, which reduces electricity and water bills,” he said.

He also pointed out the health benefits, noting that buildings with ample natural light and fresh air improve the well-being of their occupants.

Looking ahead, Kitio argued that the adoption of green building practices is not optional but necessary. “If we continue building as usual, climate change will only worsen. We must embrace sustainable building practices for a better future,” he urged.

Addressing Zimbabwe’s housing backlog, Kitio highlighted the significant demand for housing across Africa, with an estimated 160 million units needed. “By 2050, Africa’s urban population is expected to reach 1.3 billion,” he said.

“The way we build our houses greatly influences our carbon footprint. We must rethink our designs to use passive building strategies and renewable energy.”

Kitio emphasized the importance of designing houses in Zimbabwe that adapt to the local climate and use locally available materials.

He praised the Green Buildings Council of Zimbabwe for their efforts in advocating for energy transition through green buildings since 2015. “Their work is commendable, especially as some African countries have not yet started this journey,” he said.

On a global scale, Kitio referenced the Agenda 2050 on climate change, which aims to phase out fossil fuels and other activities contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

He stressed the importance of training and education in achieving these goals. “Africa has the natural resources to lead the transition to a greener, carbon-neutral environment,” he asserted.

With rapid urbanization occurring globally, particularly in Africa, Kitio noted that the urban population in Africa is expected to reach 1.3 billion by 2050, with 60% living in informal settlements without access to basic amenities. “Governments must address these challenges to ensure sustainable urban growth,” he said.

In conclusion, Vincent Kitio’s insights underscore the urgent need for Zimbabwe and other African nations to adopt green building practices.

These practices not only help combat climate change but also provide long-term economic and health benefits. As urban populations continue to grow, sustainable building solutions will become increasingly critical for creating livable and resilient cities.

 

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