At the recent Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA) annual Green Building Convention, the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) launched an innovative publication. Titled “Building a water-resilient future”, the paper is aimed at the building and construction sector, and has been developed with collaboration from the WorldGBC’s global network and industry experts. It lays out the magnitude of the challenge – and what can be done to change course. 

Global water situation 

It is predicted that by 2030, there will be a 40% gap between the global freshwater supply and demand, with the built environment being responsible for about 15% of the freshwater use. 

With nearly half of the global population predicted to be denied access to fresh, clean water, this humanitarian crisis has now become as urgent as tackling greenhouse gas emissions in the fight against climate change. 



Although the surface of the planet is approximately 70% water, less than 1% of the water on earth is available for human consumption and use.

At the United Nations (UN) Climate Summit COP28 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) on 30 November to 12 December 2023, the role of the built environment will be spotlighted in addressing how it can secure an equitable and resilient future for everyone. 

This work was showcased at COP28 to demonstrate how the built environment provides one of the greatest opportunities in helping the world transition to zero carbon, meet the Paris Agreement set target of 1,5°C and tackle the water crisis.  

The challenges we face 

Fresh water is essential for human existence. As the world population continues to grow, combined with the lack of systemic and long-term planning, fresh water has become a globally scarce resource. As a result, the world is now facing a global water crisis that is being exacerbated by climate change, with the global water use, storage and distribution contributing to 10% of the global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 

 Water demand 

In the past century, the population growth, industrialisation, urbanisation and climate change have collectively contributed to a rapidly accelerating global water crisis. Today, nearly four billion people are affected by water scarcity, and predictions suggest this number will only rise as the global water demand is projected to increase with 55% by 2050. 

In addition, the global building floor area is expected to double in size by 2060 – meaning an urban area the size of New York City is being built every month. The sector is using water across four scales – materials supply chain, construction, operating buildings and cities – at all stages of the lifecycle. 

 The solutions that are needed 

The impact of tackling the water crisis within the built environment has immense opportunities to address it on a global scale. Supported by exemplary case studies from around the world, this paper highlights four key areas across the built environment, where solutions can, and are, being actioned to tackle this crisis. 

The infographic below demonstrates the four key stages of the lifecycle where water use can be most effectively addressed: 


This paper has been developed by the WorldGBC in collaboration with a network of 26 Green Building Councils around the world, as well as Floors’ partners Arup, Brightworks Sustainability, CBRE, Foster + Partners, WSP, Kingspan and ARKANCE (formerly VinZero), and a network of over 30 individual experts. 

 View the iPaper version of the paper 

Download the PDF version of the paper here 

“I am proud to launch this industry position paper, which outlines the magnitude of this challenge – yet also the great potential of the built environment to address it. This is a sector that contributes to an enormous 15% of the freshwater use. So we must take a systems change approach and utilise every resource and opportunity to leverage our influence and expertise to drive real change across global infrastructure.” – Cristina Gamboa, chief executive officer of the WorldGBC  – Quote from GBCSA 

 Full acknowledgement and thanks go to… https://worldgbc.org/ and https://gbcsa.org.za/ for the information in this article.  

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