SDI Document: ‘SEED Positive Energy Buildings’

The Global Wildfire Challenge & Learning To Live With Fire

2019-04-05:  Let us imagine, for a moment, that we are in another dimension … The Twilight Zone …

… and that this is a Positive Energy Building, set in a sprawling, diverse, interconnected and flourishing Woodland … an idealized scene … the Sustainability Idyll

Colour photograph proposing, as the Sustainability Idyll, a Positive Energy Building in the midst of a diverse, interconnected and flourishing Woodland.  Climate change is increasing the risk of more frequent and intense Wildfires, threatening this idealized scene.  Click to enlarge.

But … is it … ??

What percentage of the world’s population would ever, ever have the opportunity to live this way ???

And … lurking all around this beautiful scene, is an inherent and growing threat to life, property, and those trees and shrubs … Wildfires !

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The Aim of Sustainable Fire Engineering (SFE) is to dramatically reduce direct and indirect fire losses in the Human Environment (including the social, built, economic, virtual, and institutional environments) … to protect the Natural Environment … and, within Buildings, to ensure that there is an effective level of Fire Safety for All Users/Occupants, not just for Some, during the full building life cycle.

[ Human Environment:  Anywhere there is, or has been, an intrusion by a human being in the Natural Environment.]

So … how do we reduce direct and indirect fire losses in the Human Environment … and improve its Resilience ?

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A recent publication provides a good platform to begin this serious conversation …

December 2018 … the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), which is based in Vienna, published Occasional Paper No. 32: ‘GLOBAL FIRE CHALLENGES IN A WARMING WORLD – Summary Note of a Global Expert Workshop on Fire and Climate Change’ …

IUFRO OC 32 – Cover Page. Click to enlarge.

GLOBAL FIRE CHALLENGES IN A WARMING WORLD – Summary Note of a Global Expert Workshop on Fire and Climate Change   (PDF File, 4.72MB)

Executive Summary

Today, catastrophic wildfires are increasingly common across the globe.  Recent disasters have attracted media attention and strengthened the perception of wildfires as ‘bad’ events, a plague worsened by climate change that has yet to be eradicated.  Although it is true that fire has a destructive potential, the reality of global fire activity depicts a much more complex picture in which fire can be a useful, if not necessary, tool for food security and the preservation of cultural landscapes, as well as a an integral element of many ecosystems and their biodiversity.

Global fire activity is shaped by diverse social, economic, and natural drivers influencing the fire environment.  The culminating complexity of these factors defines, in turn, the likelihood of a landscape to burn and the potential positive or negative outcomes for communities and ecosystems that can result from a blaze.  Although many regions remain understudied, the effects of ongoing climate change associated with other planetary changes are already visible, transforming fire activity in ways that are not well understood but are likely to be dramatic, with potential dire consequences for nature, and society in case of adaptation failure.

Based on the limited available statistics, there is a growing trend in the cost of wildfires.  In addition to human lives that are lost to flames or smoke and the billions of euros imputable to firefighting and insurance coverage, the growing interest in costs linked to healthcare, business stability, or the provision of ecosystem services such as drinking-water indicates negative economic consequences impacting countries’ GDP and social stability.  Attempts to evaluate the future costs of wildfire disasters point at a worsening situation, yet the list of possible social and economic effects is incomplete and the magnitude of envisaged impacts is conservative.

Notwithstanding the difficulties inherent to global climate modelling, there is a scientific consensus on the future increase in the frequency of fire-conducive weather associated with drier ecosystems, a mix that will eventually result in more frequent and intense fire activity.  When combined with an ever-growing world population and unsustainable land uses, the conditions leading to fire disaster will only be intensified.  Although fire governance has historically advocated for fire suppression, a No Fire motto is not an option anymore in the new fire reality.  Current policies aiming at total fire suppression have been shown to be detrimental and are therefore outdated.  The key to wildfire disaster risk reduction in a changing world now lies in learning to live with fire.

Investments in international co-operation, integrated management, local community involvement, cutting-edge technologies, and long-term data collection are critically needed to ensure the future of fire disaster risk mitigation.  Moreover, future land development policies must prioritize the protection and the restoration of natural and cultural landscapes that have been degraded by the inappropriate use of fire or, conversely, by historical fire exclusion; keeping a place for fire in forest resource management and landscape restoration has been shown to be a cost-effective and efficient solution to reduce fire hazard.

Overall, synthesis of globally available scientific evidence revealed the following key issues for landscape management and governance:

  • Climate change, with longer, hotter, and drier fire seasons, in combination with other environmental changes linked to population growth and unsustainable land-use practices, is contributing to extreme wildfire events that exceed existing fire management capacities. The world is entering a ‘new reality’ that demands new approaches to fire governance.
  • Fire is an inherent feature of the Earth System and many ecosystems, including their fauna, are dependent on it for their long-term survival; nevertheless, ongoing changes in global fire activity in terms of location, intensity, severity, and frequency will have immense costs for biodiversity, ecosystem services, human well-being and livelihoods, and national economies – to extents that have yet to be evaluated. Investment in social, economic, and environmental monitoring is therefore urgent, especially in under-studied regions.
  • Integrated fire risk reduction is key to adapting to ongoing changes in global fire risk. Future sustainable fire risk mitigation demands integrated region-specific approaches based on a clear understanding of fires in context, population awareness and preparedness, fire surveillance and early-warning systems, adaptive suppression strategies, fire-regime restoration, landscape-scale fuel management, changes to many land use practices, and active restoration of landscapes.
  • Engagement with local communities, land-owners, businesses and public stakeholders – via multiple tiers of governance – is crucial to restore and maintain landscapes that are biodiverse and functional, respectful of local cultures and identities, economically productive, and above all, fire-resilient.
  • People have historically achieved sustainable co-existence with flammable ecosystems and have often used fire as a land-management tool, thereby shaping many modern and long-standing landscapes around the world. Traditional fire knowledge is thus key to adapting to local changes in fire activity, using known techniques for the reduction of dangerous fuel loads, prescribed burning and sustainable landscape management practices.
  • Building adaptive capacity to confront fires must be based on knowledge of the natural and cultural roles of fire, how they have shaped our modern landscapes, and their importance in the long-term functioning of socio-ecological systems. Further developments in land-system science, geospatial technologies, and computer modelling will enhance our understanding of the long-term ecological and socio-economic drivers of fire through the widespread collection and distribution of harmonized fire data at the global level.  However, creating and sharing such knowledge requires national and international investments in scientific and operational fire science programmes.
  • Catastrophic fires are undeniably part of our future. Current scientific estimates are conservative, meaning that changes in fire activity might be worse than anticipated.  We have to act now to mitigate catastrophic fires and limit the occurrence of disastrous situations.  Given disparities but also similarities in the levels of fire risk around the world, and the capacities to manage it, knowledge and technology transfers through international cooperation will be a paramount factor in learning to live with fire.

This Occasional Paper is the result of a large collaborative effort by fire scientists and practitioners who believe that learning to co-exist with changing fire activity is not only possible but necessary if we, as a global society, are to adapt to climate change and keep our natural and cultural landscapes healthy, resilient, and safe for the next generations.  The work presented hereafter was developed during, and as follow-up to, the Global Expert Workshop on Fire and Climate Change hosted in Vienna, Austria, on 2-4 July 2018.  It stresses the diversity and the complexity of the global fire situation, a situation that is evolving, positively or negatively, in unknown proportions due to global environmental changes — with climate change being the most acknowledged manifestation.

Conclusion – Learning To Live With Fire

We live on a flammable planet; although not everything is meant to burn, fire cannot be eliminated.  Ongoing global climate change combined with other planetary changes is leading to more frequent and more extreme fires exposing vulnerable societies, economies, and ecosystems to disaster situations.  The recognition of fire activity as a worsening hazard threatening human security is the necessary first step towards international co-operation for the mitigation of disaster risk situations in fire-prone areas.

However, we are not defenceless.  Fire scientists in many regions of the world have been developing successful strategies and tools based on cutting-edge technologies for several years.  Those are now mature enough to be up-scaled and adapted to other geographic contexts as part of national fire management frameworks.  Additionally, integrating existing and future scientific knowledge on climate change and changing fire regimes, and systematically collecting long-term data on current and past fire uses will foster better informed decisions, models and enhanced efforts towards wildfire disaster risk reduction, as well as contribute to the development of sustainable Anthropocene fire regimes.

We hope this paper will be a catalyst for a paradigm shift, so fires are not seen as an enemy to fight but as natural and necessary phenomena, as well as a useful and necessary tool that can often help protect people and nature.  It is paramount to revise, fund, and fulfil future management, research, and governance needs if we are, as world citizens, to trigger a societal change that will help us better live with fires.

The information and insights contained in this Occasional Paper connect together to promote the use of several existing solutions to the problem: defining national fire risk reduction frameworks, collecting and analyzing relevant traditional knowledge and biophysical fire data, investing in fire detection and prediction technologies, involving and preparing stakeholders, and improving fire use and landscape management in ways that help control the fuel load and the spread of fire, while limiting GHG emissions and protecting the communities and the landscapes they live in and often depend on.

The Status Quo is no longer an option; it is time to make integrated fire management the rule rather than the exception.

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END

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‘Sustainability’ – New Part 11 in India’s National Building Code !

2013-03-17:  Happy Saint Patrick’s Day !!

Submissions on India’s Draft Amendment No.1 to the 2005 National Building Code (SP 7:2005) concerning the Proposed Incorporation of a New Part 11: ‘Approach to Sustainability’ had to arrive at the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), in Dilli … by e-mail … no later than Friday last, 15 March 2013 …

Indian National Building Code Proposed New Part 11: 'Approach to Sustainability' - Cover Memo

Click to enlarge.

Indian NBC, Proposed Part 11 on ‘Sustainability’ – December 2012 Consultation

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Extract From Foreword (Page 7):

‘ Developed nations’ approach to sustainability generally concentrates on energy conservation through high technology innovations, and use of products, materials and designs with lower embodied energy.  Their green ratings are based on intent, which implies expert inputs and simulation.  The Indian construction industry will do better using our traditional wisdom and practices, building in harmony with nature through regional common knowledge, consuming as little as necessary, applying low cost technology innovations, using recycled materials, and recognizing performance (not intent) through easily measurable parameters wherever feasible.’

How Right They Are About Prioritizing ‘Real’ Performance !!

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And Just Before That Extract Above:

‘ The authentic (my insert !) Indian way of life is aparigraha (minimum possessions), conservation (minimum consumption), and recycling (minimum waste).  These three attributes are the guiding principles for sustainable buildings as well.  With these attributes and its rich heritage, India can make a substantial contribution in this field and eventually lead the world on the path of sustainability.’

An Overly Ambitious Target ?   Perhaps Not.

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SDI Supporting India’s National Sustainable Buildings Strategy …

We very much welcome this opportunity to make a Submission on India’s Draft Amendment No.1 to the 2005 National Building Code (SP 7:2005) concerning the Proposed Inclusion of a New Part 11 ‘Approach to Sustainability’.

This IS an important development for India … and it DOES mark a substantial contribution to this field, at international level.  We wish that other countries would follow your example … particularly China, the other mushrooming economies in South-East Asia, and the Arab Gulf States.

You may not be aware that Sustainable Design International (SDI) has been specializing in the theory and implementation of a Sustainable Human Environment (social, built, virtual, and economic) since the mid-1990’s.

And, for example … in September 2007, we were invited to make a series of Keynote Presentations to 20 Senior National Decision-Makers, from both the public and private sectors, at a 2-Day Workshop which was organized for us in Lisboa, Portugal.  If invited, we would be delighted to repeat this valuable exercise in Dilli, Bengaluru, and other suitable venues in India.

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IF India is to lead the world on this particular track, i.e. Sustainable Buildings, a coherent philosophy must be outlined in the Proposed New Part 11 of the National Building Code, and a clear direction must also be given there to decision-makers, e.g. clients/client organizations, and designers.

Certain essential content must be included in Part 11.  With regard to an improved layout of Part 11, please review the attached  SDI Document: ‘SEED Building Life Cycle’ (PDF File, 55 Kb) .

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Because you have prioritized ‘real’ building performance over pre-construction design ‘intent’, it is appropriate to begin our comments here …

1.   Sustainability Performance Indicators

In order to prioritize ‘real’ performance, the monitoring of actual sustainability performance in completed and occupied buildings must be comprehensive, accurate and reliable.  Indicators of sustainability performance must, therefore, be included in all sections of the Proposed New Part 11.

Sustainability Performance Indicators provide important signposts for decision-making and design in many ways.  They can translate physical and social science knowledge into manageable units of information which facilitate the decision-making and design processes.  They can help to measure and calibrate progress towards sustainable development goals, and sectoral sustainability targets.  They can provide an early warning to prevent economic, social and environmental damage and harm.  They are also important tools to communicate ideas, thoughts and values because, as statisticians say: “We measure what we value, and value what we measure”.

Performance Indicators may be both quantitative and qualitative … but must cover all stages of the building process, i.e. project feasibility and performance specification, spatial planning, design, construction, management, operation, maintenance and servicing, de-construction, disposal, final site clean-up and sustainable repair.

While many, though not all, types of building performance can be successfully monitored using lightweight portable equipment … a certain number of monitoring devices must also be permanently installed in the building during construction.  A facility to reliably feed the output from these devices back to data collection points, on site and remote, must also be incorporated in the Building’s Intelligent Management System.

Management and collation of sustainability performance data must be reliable.  Uncertainty is always present.  Therefore, Statements of Uncertainty should always be attached to ‘reliable’ data.

Safety Factors should always be included when targeting critical ‘health and safety’ related types of performance.

Sustainability Performance Indicators must be directly comparable across different Global Regions … within Asia, across different countries … and within India, across different States.  A Balanced, Harmonized Core Set of Indian Performance Indicators should be quickly developed.  A Balanced ‘Local’ Set of Performance Indicators will always be necessary.

People tasked with monitoring sustainable building performance must be competent … and independent, i.e. be unconnected to client, design and construction organizations.

Specifically in relation to Energy Performance, the targets to be achieved in new buildings must be far more ambitious.  Please review the attached  SDI Document: ‘SEED Positive Energy Buildings’ (PDF File, 29 Kb) .

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2.   Properly Defining ‘Sustainable Development’

As currently drafted … Definition 2.26 Sustainable Development, on Page 13 of the Proposed New Part 11, is not only ambiguous, it is inadequate for India’s needs … and it is barely the first half of the full, correct definition …

Sustainable Development  is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.  It contains within it two key concepts:

  • the concept of ‘needs’, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given ;  and
  • the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.

[ Please refer to the 1987 Report of the World Commission on Environment & Development (WCED): ‘Our Common Future’ – Chapter 2, Paragraph 1.]

This original definition in the 1987 WCED Report IS appropriate for India … and it must become the core definition at the heart of India’s National Sustainable Buildings Strategy !

A careful reading of the full definition makes it clear that there are Many Aspects to this intricate, open, dynamic and still evolving concept … the most important of which are:  Social, Economic, Environmental, Institutional, Political, and Legal.

It is a Fundamental Principle of Sustainability, and one of its Primary Values … that Implementation must be Synchronous, Balanced and Equitable across All Aspects of Sustainability.

The ‘Green Agenda’ merely considers Environmental Aspects of Sustainability … in isolation from all of the other Aspects !   This is a fatal flaw which must be avoided in the Proposed New Part 11 !!

[ I made many references to this issue during the FSAI Conferences in India ! ]

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3.   Sustainability Impact Assessment (SIA) for India !

Rather than Environmental Impact Assessment … surely the Proposed New Part 11: ‘Approach to Sustainability’ must now use, explain and discuss Sustainability Impact Assessment instead !?!

Sustainability Impact Assessment (SIA)

A continual evaluation and optimization assessment – informing initial decision-making, or design, and shaping activity/product/service realization, useful life and termination, or final disposal – of the interrelated positive and negative social, economic, environmental, institutional, political and legal impacts on the synchronous, balanced and equitable implementation of Sustainable Human & Social Development.

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4.   A Robust Legal Foundation for ‘Sustainable Human & Social Development’

Paragraph 4 (Chapter 2, 1987 WCED Report) states …

‘ The satisfaction of human needs and aspirations is the major objective of development.  The essential needs of vast numbers of people in developing countries – for food, clothing, shelter, jobs – are not being met, and beyond their basic needs these people have legitimate aspirations for an improved quality of life.  A world in which poverty and inequity are endemic will always be prone to ecological and other crises.  Sustainable development requires meeting the basic needs of all and extending to all the opportunity to satisfy their aspirations for a better life.’

Trying to list the essential needs of people / the basic needs of all is a very difficult task … but it is work which has been on-going, at international level, since just after the Second World War.

The essential needs of people / the basic needs of all … are specified as being Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and are already fully described within the extensive framework of International Legal Rights Instruments.

Which is why, many years ago, SDI developed this definition for Sustainable Human & Social Development … in order:

  • to give this concept a robust legal foundation ;   and
  • (because of widespread confusion in media, political and academic circles) … to clearly establish that we are talking about sustainable human and social development, and not sustainable economic development, or any other type of development !

Sustainable Human & Social Development

Development which meets the responsible needs, i.e. the Human & Social Rights*, of this generation – without stealing the life and living resources from future generations … especially our children, and their children … and the next five generations of children.

*As defined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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5.   Climate Change Adaptation & Resilient Buildings in India ?

Atmospheric Ozone Depletion and Climate Change are mentioned, here and there, in the Proposed New Part 11.  The important implications of these phenomena for Sustainable Building Design in India are not explained … at all.  Why not ?

To properly respond to these phenomena, both must be integrated into India’s National Sustainability Strategies & Policies.

At the very least … we strongly recommend that Design Guidance on Climate Resilient Buildings be immediately drafted.  This guidance must be appropriate for implementation in each of the different climatic regions of India.

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6.   A Sustainable Indian Built Environment which is Accessible for All !

Barrier Free is mentioned, here and there, in the Proposed New Part 11.  This is to be warmly welcomed and congratulated.  Under Social Aspects of Sustainable Human & Social Development … this is an essential attribute of a Sustainable Built Environment !   However, no guidance on this subject is given to decision-makers or designers.  Why not ?

However, you should be aware that India ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) on 1 October 2007.  For your convenience, I have attached copies of the Convention in English, Hindi and Tamil.

You should also be aware that, in December 2011, the International Standards Organization (ISO) published ISO 21542: ‘Building Construction – Accessibility & Usability of the Built Environment’.  In its Introduction, ISO 21542 is directly linked to the U.N. Convention … almost like an umbilical cord.  The scope of this Standard currently covers public buildings.  As the Accessibility Agenda in the U.N. Convention is very broad … much standardization work remains to be finished at international level.

The correct term … Accessibility for All … has been defined in ISO 21542 as including … ‘access to buildings, circulation within buildings and their use, egress from buildings in the normal course of events, and evacuation in the event of an emergency’.

A note at the beginning of the standard also clarifies that Accessibility is an independent activity, i.e. assistance from another person should not be necessary … and that there should be an assurance of individual health, safety and welfare during the course of those (accessibility-related) activities.

In order to fulfil India’s legal obligations as a State Party to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities … adequate Design Guidance on Accessibility must be included in the Proposed New Part 11, supported by ISO 21542.

In addition, the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) should immediately adopt ISO 21542 as the Indian National Standard on Accessibility for All … IS / ISO 21542.

[ I made many references to this issue during the FSAI Conferences in India ! ]

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7.   Fire Safety & Protection for All in Sustainable Indian Buildings ?

Yes … there is 1 mention of ‘fire safety’ and 40 other references to ‘fire’ in the Proposed New Part 11 … but no design guidance.  Why not ?

You should be aware that there is a fundamental conflict between Sustainable Building Design Strategies and the current state-of-the-art in Fire Engineering Design.  As a good example … for cooling, heating and/or ventilation purposes in a sustainable building, it is necessary to take advantage of natural patterns of air movement in that building.  On the other hand, fire engineers in private practice, and fire prevention officers in Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s), will demand that building spaces be strictly compartmented in order to limit the spread of fire and smoke … thereby dramatically interfering with those natural patterns of air movement.

In everyday practice, there is a vast chasm in understanding and communication between these two very different design disciplines.  As a result, serious compromises are being enforced on Sustainability Building Performance.  If, on the other hand, adequate independent technical control is absent on the site of a Sustainable Building … it is the fire safety and protection which is being seriously compromised.

A range of critical fire safety issues (fatal, in the case of firefighters) are also arising with the Innovative Building Products and Systems being installed in Sustainable Buildings.

Because the emphasis is on pre-construction design ‘intent’ rather than the ‘real’ performance of the completed and occupied building … all of these problems are being conveniently ignored, and they remain hidden from everybody’s view.

This must be addressed in the Proposed New Part 11.

[ I made many references to this issue during the FSAI Conferences in India ! ]

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C. J. Walsh – Consultant Architect, Fire Engineer & Technical Controller – Managing Director, Sustainable Design International Ltd. – Ireland, Italy & Turkey.

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