Sustainability on the South Coast with Professor AbuBakr Bahaj

30 Mar 2022
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Sustainability on the South Coast with Professor AbuBakr Bahaj

Nella is joined by Professor AbuBakr Bahaj, Professor of Sustainable Energy at the University of Southampton for the 8th episode of Season 1 of the Let’s Talk South Coast podcast. 

They talk about how rising sea levels will affect Southampton, initiatives businesses can implement to combat climate change, as well as how regions in the South Coast fare in becoming sustainable. 

They touch on the upcoming The International Conference of Evolving Cities. The key element from this episode is we need to not only think about reducing our emissions, but also think about our defences.

Key Insights From This Episode: 

  • We have the Paris agreement, which asks the people in the world to reduce our emissions to zero by 2050, but to keep the temperature rise at 1.5 degrees centigrade. Rise of 1℃ = 3m rise in sea levels. At 1.5℃ Southampton Football Ground will be underwater. – AbuBakr
  • We need to not only think about reducing our emissions, but also think about our defences. – AbuBakr
  • Southampton and Winchester County Council are leaders in sustainabilty. The city has the Green City Charter which has created an agenda around climate change. – AbuBakr
  • 75% or more of the emissions occur in cities and 75% of the energy consumption occurs in cities. – AbuBakr
  • Building on the existing strengths in environmental innovation, the Solent Freeport will support national and local ambitions for net zero by growing capacity for sustainable energy production, and improving efficiencies to raise productivity. – Nella 
  • The Solent Freeport will have a dedicated Solent Freeport Greengrowth Institute, which will provide a centre of excellence in green skills, jobs to ensure local communities can benefit from the opportunities created through environmental innovation. – Nella 
  • There is a common misconception that it is too difficult to make buildings net zero but with the correct strategies, it’s possible. – Nella

About Our Guests:

Professor AbuBakr Bahaj BSc PhD CPhys MInstP FICE FIET FRSA MInstP, Professor of Sustainable Energy at the University of Southampton.

Professor AbuBakr S Bahaj (FICE, FIET, FRSA, MInstP, CPhys) leads the 55-strong Energy & Climate Change Division and the Sustainable Energy Research Group (ECCD) at the University of Southampton, where he completed his PhD, progressing from a researcher to a Personal Chair in Sustainable Energy. For more than 30 years, Professor Bahaj has pioneered sustainable energy research and established the energy theme within the University. His major research programmes include Renewable Energy, Energy Access, Cities & Infrastructure, Buildings & Communities, and Behaviour & Modelling – details are within the ECCD research portfolio booklet.

Professor Bahaj’s work has resulted in over 300 articles, published in academic refereed journals and conference series of international standing. In 2013, he founded the International Journal of Marine Energy (IJOME) followed in 2018 by the International Marine Energy Journal (IMEJ) for which he was/is the Editor-in-Chief. Prof Bahaj also holds visiting professorships at the Xi’an University of Architecture and Technology (XAUAT), Xi’an, China, (2017 – ), the Ångström Laboratory and Engineering University of Uppsala, Sweden (2011-15) and holds King Salaman bin Abdulaziz Visiting Chair for Energy Research, at King Abdulaziz University (KAU), Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (2014 – ). He is a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers (FICE), Institution of Engineering Technologies (FIET) and the Royal Academy of Arts (FRSA).

In 2012, Prof Bahaj was appointed Chief Scientific Advisor to Southampton City Council – believed to be the first such appointment in the UK. In 2014, he was named by the UK’s Science Council as one of the UK’s 100 leading practising scientists.


[01:50]  Can you briefly explain the makeup of the South Coast and what we need to know about the rising sea levels and how climate change is going to affect us operating and living on the South Coast? 

  • The South Coast is going to be subjected to a lot of floods, storms, high temperatures and heat waves but the thing that is going to most affect the South Coast is the rising sea levels.
  • We have the Paris agreement, which asks the people in the world to reduce our emissions to zero by 2050, but to keep the temperature rise at 1.5 degrees centigrade. 1℃ = 3m rise in sea levels. 
  • We need to not only think about reducing our emissions, but also think about our defences.

[04:30] How do you think our South Coast cities fare in becoming a sustainable region?

  • We are fragmented, not because people don’t want to do anything about it, it is because we are too busy and short staffed. 
  • You are always fighting fire instead of planning and thinking about what’s going on.

[06:30] What initiatives do businesses, real estate and individuals need to implement to help tackle climate change?

  • Whether you are a small or large business, what you need to understand is; what is your impact? What’s your footprint? What are the emissions that you have?
  • Once you understand that, then you need to have a plan. The plan should be associated with a member of staff that can deliver it. Review plan on an annual basis.  
  • Access multiple tools online like the Greenhouse Gas Protocol or tools provided  by universities. 

[10:35] Are there any businesses or innovators out there that have caught your eye in the region in relation to sustainability?

  • There are companies who work around the periphery of sustainability. 
  • The local authorities are leading the way. 
  • The future is really great in terms of innovation and engineering is really the core of it, but engineering needs to couple up with social science.

[13:00] Have you seen an uptake in your  studies and your lectures for people wanting to study sustainability? 

  • We have between 15 to 20 in each of our 3 MSc’s. 
  • My team are into energy and sustainability and our modules are very popular with 50-60 students. 

[14:05] What exciting projects or research are you working on at the moment? 

  • The Africa project which has expanded to the Philippines. 
  • 75% or more of the emissions occur in cities. 
  • We had projects which looked at all the buildings in Southampton and we looked at how much the roofs of those buildings could generate in terms of power. 

[20:40]  How best can a region ensure economic growth initiatives and manage it in a way that it still meets sustainability? 

  • If  you look at the graph of the UK, decarbonising from 1990 to now and you can see we’ve gone down to about 40% of our electricity coming out from renewables.
  • Climate Change Committee looking at carbon budgets.  
  • Sustainability being negative on growth is not true. 
  • Southampton should be shouting that this is the region for hydrogen because we’ve got all the constituents. 

[25:20] There is a common misconception that it is too difficult to make buildings net zero but with the correct strategies, it’s possible. What approaches can be applied for a building? 

  • Technologies to make buildings zero carbon are available, the problem is it is costly.
  • The UK government had a policy that any new buildings by 2016 should be zero carbon but it was removed by the coalition. 
  • The difficulty is that we may not have the labour force to do all the difficult tasks around buildings. 
  • Survey the property, model it and see what it needs, refurbish to reduce its consumption and then you install renewable energy systems. 

[27:30] The International Conference of Evolving Cities takes place as a hybrid event on the 13th – 15th of July 2022 at Southampton University. What are the highlights listeners expect to learn? 

  • Propelling cities to low-carbon.
  • There are 6 pillars at the conference; 
    • Cities and infrastructure
    • Energy technologies 
    • Cities wellbeing and behaviour 
    • Smart cities 
    • Linking up business
    • South mobility zones 

[32:00] Quickfire Questions

1.Who are the movers and shakers of our region? 

    • The local authorities, the universities and the Local Enterprise Partnership, the Hampshire Chamber of Commerce and Business South, we can all come together and have a network around the sustainability strategy.


2. What is the best thing that a business could benefit from being on the South Coast?

      • You have the proximity of green spaces.
      • We’ve got the communication.


3.What is your favourite mantra you live by?

    • Endeavour to do better and aspire to be the best.  


Shout Outs:

About Our Host

Nella Pang

I left the corporate world in 2020 and launched Omega RE a commercial advisory firm in a pandemic, whilst on maternity. Brave some people would say. 🚀

The pandemic has taught many of us a thing or two, particularly on how we can do business. I support businesses to navigate the complexities of Commercial Real Estate, so they can achieve their business objectives through their Real Estate decisions.

Lease negotiations can be a minefield. Even small mistakes can drive up costs. That’s why I will represent your interests every step of the way, ensuring you receive full value of our experience and market knowledge.

With over 18 years’ experience in the Commercial Property Market having worked for the big corporates Jones Lang LaSalle Limited, BNP Paribas Real Estate and Vail Williams.

I want to be able to share my corporate knowledge with my clients, whilst offering a more personal dedicated commercial advisory service.

Having acted for a wide range of clients from major pension funds to private investors, small businesses and individuals. I love meeting people and I am passionate about adding value to my clients business and watching their business thrive.

About Omega RE

Omega RE is a commercial property advisory firm based on the South Coast. Providing expert advice to Landlords, Occupiers in the industrial, office and retail markets.

Omega RE is always thinking ‘Outside the Box’ in our advice to clients and the way we do business. We don’t settle for mediocre, we challenge the norm and are dedicated to finding solutions that is best for our clients.

We are a people business, based on strong relationships and partnerships, and we offer a personal level of service.

As the market evolves, we will too adapt to be successful and want the same for our clients. We are committed to finding innovative ways of marketing and how to do things more efficiently.

We will never stagnate.

We are disciplined in everything we do, we take time to understand the situation and set a bespoke strategy for each client. Not one size fits all. We do not cut corners or take short cuts and our integrity is undisputed.

Providing clients’ a hands on approach to finding the perfect property; office, industrial, warehouse or retail space to meet business needs and negotiating the best commercial lease terms, is what we do best.

We come to work because we’re passionate about providing expert, innovative, independent advice to clients. We want to help businesses navigate the complexities of Commercial Real Estate.

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