Affordable Housing

Exploring the Case for Climate Smart Affordable Housing in Pakistan

December 14, 2023
6 min read

Imagine a world where housing not only provides shelter but also contributes to environmental sustainability. This is not a utopian dream but a very achievable reality, especially in countries like Pakistan, where the housing sector is ripe for innovation. In this article, we delve into this subject, offering valuable insights and recommendations.

To set the context, lets acknowledge that Pakistan finds itself grappling with the formidable challenges posed by climate change:

  1. Ranking in Vulnerability: Pakistan assumes the disconcerting position of 8th among the top 10 nations most susceptible to the impacts of climate change. This ranking underscores the imperative for swift and decisive action.
  2. Health Impacts from Escalating Heat: In the year 2015, an alarming 56,000 individuals necessitated hospitalization due to heatstroke, vividly exemplifying the imminent and severe health risks arising from escalating temperatures.
  3. Unprecedented Weather Events: In April 2022, Turbat, Baluchistan, bore witness to record-breaking meteorological phenomena, serving as a stark testament to the escalating intensity of climate-induced disruptions in recent times.
  4. Temperature Trajectory: Since 1960, Pakistan has experienced an unsettling average temperature increase of 0.6-1°C, signifying a pronounced long-term warming trend.
  5. Future Climate Scenarios: Equally disconcerting are the projections for the future. By 2050, Pakistan faces the ominous prospect of enduring a staggering 150 days annually with temperatures surpassing the 35°C mark, portending a future marred by extreme heat.

The impact of climate change in Pakistan, marked by rising temperatures, extreme weather events, and shifting climate patterns, compounds the nation's already daunting challenge of meeting the increasing housing needs of its growing population. As climate-related disruptions intensify, they can exacerbate displacement, further stressing the demand for sustainable and climate-resilient housing solutions in a nation where housing shortages are already acute.

The housing gap in Pakistan, particularly for the bottom 40% of the income pyramid, presents a stark and pressing challenge. According to data from the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, a significant portion of this demographic faces the harsh reality of inadequate housing, with an estimated 32% living in slums and informal settlements as of 2020. The situation is exacerbated by the country's rapid urbanization rate, which currently stands at approximately 2.7% per year, further straining the already limited housing resources. For many in this income bracket, access to safe and affordable housing remains a distant dream, contributing to a cycle of poverty and vulnerability. Addressing this housing gap is not just a matter of improving living conditions; it is essential for fostering social equity, economic stability, and overall well-being among Pakistan's most marginalized communities.

This housing gap, if left unaddressed, could lead to overcrowding, inadequate living conditions, and social disparities. Traditional construction methods, which are resource-intensive and often inefficient, have been the conventional response to this challenge. Yet, these methods come at a steep environmental cost. The impact of this gap is directly responsible for lower quality of life metrics for a significant portion of the Pakistani population, shown in the exhibit below.

Amidst this complex landscape, the concept of "Climate Smart Housing (CSH)" emerges as a beacon of hope and sustainability. CSH involves adopting innovative, environmentally friendly construction techniques and materials that not only reduce carbon emissions but also enhance energy efficiency, improve indoor air quality, and promote overall well-being. Three broad scenarios for the construction of millions of affordable homes:

  1. Net-zero Homes: These homes achieve 100% carbon savings compared to a standard home. The construction cost for these homes is estimated at PKR 2,400 per square foot. By opting for this approach, a staggering 160 million tons of CO2E can be prevented from being emitted over their lifespan, showcasing a monumental stride towards environmental conservation.
  2. Homes with Minimal Savings: These homes achieve 20% carbon savings, curtailing approximately 160 million tons of CO2E emissions.
  3. Standard Homes: These homes do not integrate any climate-smart innovations and come at a construction cost of PKR 4,431 per square foot, resulting in zero carbon savings.

The cost of constructing standard homes is approximately 84.63% higher than that of net-zero homes. Homes with carbon savings provide the dual advantage of green financing in the housing sector: it not only addresses the housing crisis but also makes a significant positive impact on the environment, especially when considering the potential of 10 million net-zero homes!

However, there are several demand and supply side challenges that need to be addressed for Climate Smart Housing to become a major source of new homes in the country. Developers find it more profitable to sell undeveloped plots rather than build homes, leading to a scarcity of affordable housing options. The limited availability of green financing makes it challenging for developers to adopt climate-smart innovations without passing the costs onto consumers. Only a handful of developers cater to the lower-income groups with climate-smart housing, and these developers report that their customers are more price-sensitive than climate-conscious. The prevailing trend of treating land purely as a commodity further complicates the housing landscape.

A lack of awareness leads to low demand, and this is primarily because of lack of awareness of climate change, its impact, and the threats that the warming climate poses to human health outcomes is low. There is also a limited understanding of the role that housing, and climate-smart innovations can play to enhance resilience to climate-related events, and except those in disaster-prone areas, lower income groups are price-sensitive, not climate-sensitive.

As we grapple with the dual challenges of climate change and affordable housing, the concept of climate-smart low-income housing offers a beacon of hope.

The Power of Facilitating New Developers

Imagine if barriers to entry for new developers were eliminated! This could potentially lead to a surge in the construction of climate-smart homes. With each new developer, we're not just adding to the housing stock; we're contributing to a greener future. If each new climate-smart home could reduce carbon emissions by, say, 2 tons per year compared to a traditional home, the impact would be monumental.

Market-Driven Demand and Carbon Savings

Climate-smart housing must be cheaper than standard homes to create market-driven demand. Let's consider the numbers. If climate-smart homes were to become 20% cheaper than traditional homes, this could result in a 30% increase in demand. With higher demand, the cumulative carbon savings could be significant. For instance, if 10,000 new climate-smart homes were built, we could potentially save 20,000 tons of carbon emissions annually.

Indigenous Production and Global Impact

The recommendation for indigenous production of high-performance insulation and low-impact cement is not just about cost savings; it's about reducing the carbon footprint of the construction process itself. Local production means less transportation and, consequently, fewer emissions. If indigenous production could reduce the carbon footprint of each home by an additional 1 ton per year, that's a global impact we cannot ignore.

Green Financing as a Catalyst

Green financing could act as the catalyst for all these changes. By subsidizing the high costs of climate-smart innovations, we're not just making it financially viable for developers; we're investing in the planet's future. If green financing could facilitate the construction of an additional 5,000 climate-smart homes each year, that's an extra 10,000 tons of carbon emissions saved annually.

The Choice is Ours

As we stand at this pivotal moment, the choices we make today will echo through generations. The potential for climate-smart low-income housing in Pakistan is not just a local issue; it's a global imperative. By acting now, we can build a legacy of sustainability and social equity that our children will be proud to inherit.

In the bricks and mortar of these climate-smart homes lies not just the foundation of a house, but the foundation of a greener, more equitable world. The numbers don't lie; the potential for change is enormous. But it starts with us, here, now.