Buoyant ULI conference faces up to ESG challenge

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues were high up the agenda at this year’s edition of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Europe conference in Amsterdam.

Hundreds of delegates from across the real estate sector in Europe discussed the big issues facing investors, developers and occupiers, at the Okura Hotel in the Dutch capital city.

Speaking at the three-day event on Wednesday, Hans Timmer, chief economist for Asia at the World Bank, said the property sector must deal with disruption by mega trends such as technology changing how labour markets function, affordable housing crises in major cities, trade wars and falling investment volumes.

‘The world is very different from 10 to 15 years ago because the world is never the same after a big crisis like in 2008,' he said. 'There is a change in economic dominance and trends emerge such as new technologies and the customisation of production.

‘What is needed is not more real estate, but different real estate.’

Amid buoyant sentiment among sector professionals reaping the benefits of a long cycle, Timmer sounded a note of caution about present conditions and the potential effects of quantitative easing and rock-bottom interest rates.

‘Is it an advantage to have all this money flowing into commercial real estate because ultimately it just leads to a rise in land prices?' he asked. 'Prices keep going up, it becomes a bubble and sooner or later it bursts.

‘Europe doesn’t have many strong underlying economies. The rise in interest rates is going to come and it will cause problems when it does.’

The ULI conference also saw the showcasing of a new digital tool for asset managers and investors to future-proof their real estate investments against targets for carbon emissions.

Dirk Brounen, Professor of real estate at the University of Tilburg showcased the tool - which he developed - that calculates a ‘carbon stranded asset risk’ point, at which an asset no longer meets industry and government targets for cutting carbon.

Also at the ULI conference, PropertyEU broke news of the appointment of the trade body's new chairman for Europe, Marnix Galle, the executive chairman of Belgian developer, Immobel.

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