January 9, 2024

Advancing Climate Resilient Housing at COP28

Ariana Karamallis

Global Advocacy & Development Associate

Build Change recently returned home from COP28, the largest and most well-known global climate change conference hosted annually by UNFCCC and held this year in Dubai. Our delegation to the conference included Juan Caballero, Chief of Programs, and Ariana Karamallis, Global Advocacy & Development Associate, who spoke at six different events and engaged with many of our key advocacy and fund development partners to advocate for climate-resilient housing. Resilient housing must be a key aspect of the climate agenda if we are to meet the increasingly urgent adaptation needs of billions of people worldwide.

This was Build Change’s third COP, and we are happy to see our impact in the space growing. In the first year, Build Change built momentum by advancing housing in built environments and resilience spaces, and in the second year, there was finally a recognition by others that housing as a concept is a critical lever for climate action as reflected by the publication of the Sharm El Sheikh Adaptation Agenda. In this third year of our representation, our leadership alongside partners driving housing issues forward was more relevant than ever to achieve greater impact in housing as a climate mitigation and adaptation solution.

Government delegations speak in support of The Buildings Breakthrough on Multi-Level Action, Urbanization, Built Environment and Transport Day.

Policy Actions in the Built Environment Signal Significant Progress, Still Require Stronger Housing Focus

December 6th–Multi Level Action, Urbanization, Built Environment and Transport Day–was filled to the brim with discussions exploring how to make the built environment—and all the industries, sectors, and stakeholders that feed into it—carbon neutral, resilient, and sustainable.

This included the launch of the Buildings Breakthrough, which aims to “strengthen international collaboration to decarbonize the building sector and make clean technologies and sustainable solutions the most affordable, accessible, and attractive option in all regions by 2030.” Not an easy task, especially considering how little discussion there was of strategies and solutions for the most common types of buildings out there: informal buildings and housing.

This reality will need to be acknowledged to achieve the objectives of the Buildings Breakthrough. We will also need lots of collaboration, lots of political will, lots of innovation, and lots of finance—especially considering the number of buildings that need to be built (or retrofitted!) between now and 2050 to meet the growing population and rapid urbanization needs.

The reality is that most buildings built today are not formal. They are self-built and built informally. We need to drive policy to address the elephant in the room: informally built buildings and housing. We must include informal housing in our thinking, solutions and strategies as we move forward with the Buildings Breakthrough.

Juan Caballero speaks at “Delivering the Buildings Breakthrough: Pioneering leadership for a low-carbon and resilient world,” an Implementation Lab hosted by the Building to COP coalition.

Addressing Both Quantitative and Qualitative Housing Deficits Will Be Necessary for Resilience, Especially in Africa

Kathy Baughman McLeod, Will Wild, Naa Ayeleysa Quaynor-Mettle, Juan Caballero, and Sheela Patel were all panelists at the Building to COP Implementation Lab on December 6th. Sheela, Naa, and Juan all drew attention to the need to create housing solutions for the most vulnerable populations as a key adaptation priority. 

In Africa, where Build Change started work this year, the population is estimated to reach 3 billion by 2050 and 80% of the buildings that will exist in the region by that time are yet to be built. Of these, nearly 90% will be residential. Despite this—and the growing population and housing needs across the rest of the Global South, too—there was insufficient mention of how to translate ambitious and important mitigation targets to the adaptation needs of the 3+ billion people set to be living in inadequate housing by 2030, let alone 2050. 

We need to think differently about how to address policy barriers related to land and tenure security, which prevent access to safe housing for millions across Africa. As the African population grows and urbanizes over the coming decades, governments must find means to provide safe, resilient, permanent homes for millions of people. 

By 2030, 40% of the world’s population will be living in inadequate housing. Most of these people are living in informal, self-built homes that need to be retrofitted or rebuilt to be climate and disaster-resilient—especially considering the realities of an increasingly warming world. These communities not only live in the most vulnerable physical circumstances but, due to poverty, land insecurity, and the ripple effects of a life characterized by informality, are without the financial and technical resources, political representation, or voice required to access safe, resilient housing and basic services. 

Mitigation Benefits of Housing Are Also Critical to Reaching Net Zero

Juan Caballero speaks at “Housing and Climate Adaptation for the Most Vulnerable Populations,” together with Nate Matthews of Global Resilience Partnership, Chrispin Chavula of Habitat for Humanity Malawi, and Abednego Changa of the Zambian affiliate of Slum Dwellers International.
Watch the video here.

But many of these homes do not need to be rebuilt. Just before COP28, Build Change launched our latest study, “Saving Embodied Carbon through Strengthening Existing Housing,” based on findings from over 300 case studies, this report finds that not only is incrementally upgrading existing housing a transformative solution with innumerable social benefits–especially when implemented using a homeowner-driven approach like Build Change does–but it offers tremendous environmental benefits as well. By applying the findings from this study, we estimate there’s an opportunity to save 4.8 gigatons of CO2 emissions while addressing the more than 268 million inadequate houses1 globally.

Retrofitting is cheaper, costing about 23% less than building new, and can save 68% of embodied carbon per house, indicating major environmental benefits as well. In communities across the global south, retrofitting for disaster and climate resilience needs to be the go-to first strategy for addressing the global housing deficit. It is an investment not only in a building but in a community and the people living there, too. 


“We should be doing COP for the most vulnerable if we want to make the world safe and resilient for us all…How we design and finance our informal sector is how we will define resilience in the future.” 

Cerin Kizhakkethottam from UN-Habitat at UNFCCC side event 
“Housing & Climate Adaptation for the Most Vulnerable Populations

If we want to make a difference, we need to focus our efforts on creating policy, financing and technology solutions that reach the billions living in self-built, informal homes and include resilient housing as a key adaptation priority. 

Activating the Loss & Damage Fund and Increasing Adaptation Finance 

But there are big picture items–and finance–needed to fully activate these initiatives. While the operationalization of the Loss & Damage Fund is a strong step forward, it requires more funding to effectively address the extensive challenges posed by climate change impacts on vulnerable communities worldwide. While the establishment of a framework for the Global Goal on Adaptation does indicate progress, it is so far missing the funding needed to enable countries to implement robust strategies, build resilient infrastructure, and enhance adaptive capacities in the face of evolving climate threats. 

Mia Mottley, the Prime Minister of Barbados, spoke to the urgent need to bridge the adaptation finance gap when she addressed COP28, saying, “Loss and damage alone is only a part of the equation. Because for every dollar that we spend before disaster, we can save $7 in damage, and indeed in loss of lives…We continue to need significant funds for adaptations for countries that simply will not be met unless there’s a different approach to how we address the capitalization of the international financial institutions [and] the commitment of countries…If not, we will not make it possible for countries to access the funds necessary to avoid the damage.”

Amid these high-level global events, we must not forget who continues to bear the brunt of climate change’s impacts. The needs of those most vulnerable to climate change must be at the center of every finance mechanism we create, every policy decision our governments take, and every new technology we develop. We need to raise the call for climate and disaster-resilient housing, using the launch of the Buildings Breakthrough and the momentum gained at COP28 as an opportunity to bring stakeholders together to transform our global systems, addressing barriers around policy, money, and technology to increase access to resilient housing and drive impact at scale. 

Watch Build Change at COP28:

Check out our full list of COP28 engagements here and watch recordings of some of the events at the links below: 


  1. International Finance Corporation, World Bank Group, Introducing the Adequate Housing Index (AHI), A New Approach to Estimate the Adequate Housing Deficit within and across Emerging Economies (2021). ↩︎

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