Home / INREV Annual Conference 2023 Barcelona: A Summary

INREV Annual Conference 2023 Barcelona: A Summary

The INREV Annual Conference 2023 took place in Barcelona over 17, 18 and 19 April. We welcomed an enthusiastic crowd of over 500 INREV members to hear the latest trends, insights and thoughtful discussion around a central theme: 'Reality and resilience: managing real estate amid global turmoil'.


Of all the Annual Conferences to date, this year’s event resonated with special meaning, marking a key historical milestone as INREV celebrates its 20th anniversary

Over 500 members gathered in Barcelona, making this the third time that the City of Counts has hosted the Conference and establishing a new record for attendance figures.  More than 20 percent of delegates were joining the event for the first time, mingling with a select hardcore of Conference devotees (22%) each of whom had notched up an impressive tally of 11+ plus events.

Against the backdrop of global economic challenges, geopolitical uncertainty and the climate emergency, the Conference set out its stall with a clear focus on finding insights and answers that might identify a direction of travel for the non-listed real estate industry in Europe and globally over the coming years.

Delegates were eager to hear from the broad and impressive line-up of expert contributors.  Speakers shared their thoughts on a wide-ranging spectrum of topics from alternative economics and re-thinking capitalism to the changing geopolitical landscape, megatrends affecting both occupiers and investment strategies, managing the future post the energy crisis and valuing the green transition.

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Defying convention: alternative economics for challenging times (Steve Keen)

Steve Keen, economist and Distinguished Research Fellow at University College London, set a pacey start to the Conference inviting the audience to reconsider received economic wisdom.

Steve’s provocation likened classical economics to Ptolemaic astronomy arguing that extrapolating microeconomics to reach macroeconomic conclusions was misplaced.  Instead, he said that it is quite possible – and more desirable – to derive macro from macro.  He highlighted his core thesis that private debt has long been grossly underestimated.  The consequences of which have proved pretty disastrous as, he identified, was the case when US sub-prime mortgages lit the fuse for the global financial crisis in 2008.  Steve suggested to delegates that it had been a mistake for economists to assert the fact that debt doesn’t affect asset values. In his view, the opposite is true, with private debt impacting both real estate pricing and driving falls in GDP.

He moved on to call out climate change as the most urgent and serious challenge facing us all.  He painted a sobering picture of the devastating impact for humanity and the planet if degradation of the ozone layer is allowed to continue unchecked.  Steve made a powerful case for economists to stop ignoring the science and urgently begin to incorporate accurate climate change modelling into their thinking as a cornerstone of the new economics.

An audience poll revealed that 87% of those attending felt that climate change really is a serious problem, that truly does affect your investment decisions.

Redrawing the geopolitical map: power shifts and emerging players (Ron Keller)

Reflecting his extensive experience at the highest levels of international diplomacy, Ron Keller, former Dutch Ambassador to Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, and China, treated delegates to a very thoughtful summary of how the global balance of power has shifted over recent years, and where things might end up.

Beginning with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the ensuing hope for the dawning of a new era of democracy, market economics and globalisation across various key parts of the world, Ron Keller explained why that hope never quite morphed into reality. 

He said that the barriers lay deep in the cultural differences between the major regional centres. Russia, personified by President Putin, has a 1000-year-old inferiority complex, a colonial mentality towards its former USSR countries and a vertical economic power base. China is stalling economic advances it has made in recent years, now more interested in its domestic economy than its ‘belt and road’ export engine. Meanwhile, the US has been looking at the containment of China and Russia for 30 years, and with an inherently isolationist approach is not really in favour of a globalised economy. US is afraid of competition in innovation, which it should not be.

According to Ron Keller, geopolitical tension has always been a feature of our shared landscape and has clearly been resurfacing in Europe and Asia of late.  EU enlargement and NATO expansion have caused humiliation and frustration for Putin and contributed to his invasion of Ukraine.

Ron spoke of today’s multi-polar world, globalisation receding and the likelihood of increased tension to negatively impact trade, innovation, and economics. But he also offered a roadmap for change based on a core principle of greater mutual recognition and acceptance of different political and economic systems. He said the central to this outcome, is the need for western democracies, in particular, to stop pushing the liberal democratic model on reluctant audiences. Only this way will we be able to create the conditions for global cooperation on defining challenges such as climate change.

Audience poll: 

Was the Ukraine war predictable? 
Yes                 48%
No                  12%
Maybe            40%

Is globalisation reversing?
No                  20%
Yes                 41%
Somewhat      39% 

Status update: real estate’s changing role in investment portfolios (Shehriyar Antia)

Shehriyar Antia, PGIM ‘s Head of Thematic Research, shared his thoughts on the investment environment, explaining that this would remain challenging for the next 12 to 24 months.

One of the ways for investors to navigate the probably unsettled outlook, said Shehriyar, is to consider the potential inherent within megatrends, and to pick from a basket of generally attractive opportunities. He identified three megatrends, that are universal, impactful and enduring, that are already well known but that deserve closer reappraisal.

Technology (specifically digitalisation), social / political change (in particular urbanisation and globalisation), and demographics (especially ageing populations) were, said Shehriyar, powerful routes through which investors might find ways to manage peculiarly tricky issues for real estate, such as timing and illiquidity. Helpfully, he identified his top picks for precisely where the opportunities might lie.

Shehriyar backed hyperscale data centres in relation to the technology megatrend.  He selected industrial for onshoring and friend shoring in respect of social /political change – particularly related to food systems. He highlighted alternative and more granular data that enables more informed decision making on specific assets when it comes to acting on the demographic megatrend.

Audience poll:

Does a sharply changing world create more risk or opportunities over the next 5 years?
More risk for investors                     38%
More opportunities for investors      33%
Roughly the same                            29%

What may be a bigger threat to investment portfolios over the next 5 years?
Shifting dynamics of geopolitics           17%
Shifting macro and rate landscape       54%
Roughly the same                                 29%

Power of good: how to emerge stronger from the energy crisis (Thijs Van de Graaf)

Having emerged from the winter months, when the impact of the energy crisis was likely to have been most keenly felt by many, Thijs Van de Graaf, Associate Professor of International Politics at the Ghent Institute for International and European Studies, offered delegates a clear and fascinating view of the case for energy independence.

He spoke about how energy costs rose and fell driven by a trio of complex factors: the post-Covid recovery, nuclear problems (especially in France), extreme weather, and Russia’s manipulation of gas supply and pricing.

Thijs Van de Graaf identified a shift in the energy production map – the current version of which is quite different from its predecessor.  While this brings advantages, such as a more even spread of sources of renewables around the world and less geopolitical leverage from owners of fossil fuels and energy processing hardware, there are also related new challenges and dependencies.  Among these are the need to protect sources of fossil fuels during the energy transition and to maintain a nuclear energy capability, though China and Russia dominate nuclear fuel production. At the same time, Europe must think not just about its energy dependency on China and Russia, but also its dependency on the US.

He highlighted that the old energy trilemma of cost, climate and security has been replaced with a trilemma mark two that refers to renewables, (energy) efficiency and electrification. Thijs, concluded by underling the point that in order to make the most of the new trilemma, we need to reinvent the concept of energy security taking account of a brand-new set of supply chain factors, related to minerals and metals, such as hydrogen and cobalt.  Yet some of these materials present their own challenges in terms of ownership, sustainable extraction and trading.

Audience poll: 

Is energy independence in Europe feasible? 
Yes                        59%
No                          18%
Maybe                    23%

Is energy independence in Europe desirable?
Yes                        87%
No                           7%
Maybe                     6% 

Rethinking capitalism: uniting the private and public sector to address social need (Mariana Mazzucato)

In a tour de force, Mariana Mazzucato, Professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value at University College London, delivered a forceful reappraisal of public, private partnerships.  

Starting from the premise that the ecosystem between government and the corporate sector is broken, Mariana highlighted the fact that this is a barrier to delivering the United Nations’ much needed Sustainability Goals (SDGs).  Government is too reliant on consultants while the corporate sector is focused only on shareholder value and largely ignores stakeholder value and continue to take financial hand-outs from government with no obligations.  In 2022 companies spent $1 trillion buying back shares, which Mariana described as a financialised form of capitalism.

The result is that we’re taking too long to make real progress on key issues such as poverty, hunger, good health, clean water, and climate action.

What’s needed, she said, is for companies and the public sector to get serious about stakeholder value.  She told delegates that language is a significant part of the problem. ‘Partnership’, for example, is woefully inadequate to describe the robustness of the relationship and the seriousness of intent that are required.  And there’s a pressing need to change the story of where value comes from.

Referencing the Apollo space programme, Mariana explained the importance of turning challenges into ‘moonshots’ with innovation and public purpose at their centre.  She spoke of needing to put in place a clear top-down mission, challenge orientated value creation, multi-sector and public participation, co-creation, and bottom-up organisation. 

The lesson, she concluded, is that achieving the SDGs is not as easy as reaching the moon, but it can be done if we get serious.

Audience poll: 

In general do large corporate consultancies provide very good value for money for clients?
Yes                32%
No                 68% 

There is no real estate value without public investment in infrastructure, utilities, amenities, planning, culture, knowledge and education?
Yes               80%
No                20% 

An inclusive approach: building community through the Barcelona Green Deal (Bàrbara Pons Giner)

In this next session we turned our attention to the host city of Barcelona. Barbara Pons Giner, Commissioner for Barcelona 2030, Barcelona City Council,  took us on a tour of the City of Counts and the new innovations in the pipeline. 

Bárbara introduced the Barcelona Green Deal, an economic roadmap to rejuvenate the city of Barcelona by 2030 where people can reside, work and visit. It’s based on the 17 SDG’s and the European Green Deal. 

Following on from Mariana Mazzucato’s session Barbara talked about the importance of attracting public sector with government eg pharmaceutical companies find Barcelona very attractive due to the high quality public health system. 

Barbara explained that sustainable cities is one of the new goals of humanity and Barcelona. 

Audience poll:

In 1992 Barcelona surprised the world with its brilliant hosting of the Olympic Games. Is Barcelona still an innovator? 
Yes                        27%
No                         30%
Somewhat             43%

Valuing the green transition: climate related innovations (Vijay Vaitheeswaran)

Vijay Vaitheeswaran, The Economist’s Global Energy & Climate Innovation Editor, delved deep into the climate crisis.  He began by explaining the need for a climate technology revolution in order to save lives and save the planet.  He spoke of what he described as ‘global weirding’ where the climate emergency is impacting investment deals, which have trebled as a share of GDP because people can now measure the risk of climate to their assets.   

Nonetheless, Vijay said progress on tackling climate change had been pitifully slow over the last 20 years.  He characterised part of the reason for the slow progress in terms of ‘six wicked global challenges’: the obstruction of climate science, protectionism, ESG / environmental investing, a new kind of geopolitics, and the energy crisis.

But he said there’s no need to panic because the three cylinders of market, technology and policy are now all firing together and we’re entering the golden age of climate innovation.  Vijay explained to delegates that clean tech is now reaching maturity, green investment is surging globally, and policy is doing well.   Consequently, the global race to the top in terms of which global region dominates is now on.

According to Vijay, the US is currently in pole position, but the final outcome is not a forgone conclusion.  He explained how China is trailblazing, India is one to watch, and Europe could play a more significant role if it does a few things right.  Potentially, Europe’s secret weapon is its social capital.

He summed up by inviting everyone to ‘go forth and innovate’.

Audience poll: 

Can markets deliver the climate adjustments we need on their own?
Yes they can                       13%    
No, they can’t                      87%

Which region will be the climate tech leader in the world by 2030? 
Japan/Korea                         5%
China                                    8%
India                                      8%
Singapore and ASEAN        19%
Europe                                 49%
N. America                           11%

Leadership on the edge (Robert Swan)

Renowned polar explorer and founder of the 2041 Foundation, Robert Swan, was the final speaker to take to the stage, in a fitting close to this year’s conference.  He enthralled delegates with his inspiring story of polar exploration, which includes several grueling visits to Antarctica.  He is the only person to have reached both the North and South Poles – a feat that has earned him a deserved place in polar exploration history.

Robert spoke eloquently of his passionate commitment to protecting the Antarctic, describing the mission to save Antarctica from the ravages of climate change that was entrusted to him by French ocean explorer, Jacques Cousteau.  This mission was the inspiration for his 2041 Foundation.

With sober clarity, charm and humour he told delegates of his trials and triumphs, and underlined the importance of perseverance, trust and the art of listening.  He emphasised how being able to depend on one another is critical for survival – not just in extreme conditions but everywhere.

Explaining how on his first trip to the South Pole, he walked under the hole in the ozone layer on the day it was discovered, Robert also shared the startling story of how that experience changed not only the colour of his eyes, but his whole perception of the damage we were doing to the planet.  He learned first-hand a frightening truth that set him on the path to his subsequent ardent advocacy of the need for change, and particularly for the switch to renewable energy.
Speaking of his knowledge of the dire consequences for humankind if the polar ice caps melt, Robert told delegates that continuing to do the same as we always do will only lead to us swimming in meltwater. There is, he said, a sense of urgency to do things differently, concluding that, ‘all that counts is that we act’. 

Three panels: occupiers’ perspective, global vision, sustainable business

The first panel on day one took an insiders view as we spoke about market trends from the occupiers perspective. The panel was enthusiastically moderated by Greg Clark. A huge thanks to our insightful panelists: Martin Inden, DHL, Mark Grinis, EY and Pascal Newcomb, Unilever.  

Audience poll: 

Have we come to a settled new pattern for offices in Europe?
Yes, the pattern is now settled           15%
No, much more change will occur      51%
It’s too soon to say                             34%

Have we come to a settled new pattern for logistics in Europe? 
Yes, the pattern is now settled           23%
No, much more change will occur      57%
It's too soon to say                             20%

How often does your asset manager speak directly with occupiers?
Once a year            21%    
Once a month         50%
Once a week           20%
Once a day               6%
Once an hour            3% 

The global panel was a lively an insightful panel debate on Europe’s place in the wider investment world with three leading investors: Karim Habra, Ivanhoe Cambridge, Dennis Lopez, Quadreal property Group and Robert-Jan Foortse, APG Asset Management. They agreed that the operational side of the business gives them the intelligence they need to operate more efficiently, affordable housing is a sustainable investment and the things that keep them awake include: making the wrong decision, refinancing in the next 18 months and things they cannot control such as geopolitics. 

The risks and uncertainties of Europe are dampening investor appetite for RE Europe relative to where it might be otherwise? 
Yes                64%
No                 21%
Maybe           15%

Investment allocations to RE in Europe will do what over the next 3 years?
Rise                     22%
Fall                       43%
Stay the same      35%

The third and last panel was a group of enthusiastic entrepreneurs: Alexandre Aquien, ICAWOOD, Gertjan van der Baan, Vesteda and Maria Eugenia, Abatable who presented their sustainable businesses and how they drive ESG transformation through innovation.  We heard about wooden houses and the world’s  first 3D concrete printed house to substantially reduce your carbon footprint and approaches on how to offset carbon smartly. 

Save the date 2024

INREV Annual Conference 2024 | Copenhagen - 22-24 April 2023

Mark your agenda for next year’s flagship event which will take place between 22-24 April 2023 in Copenhagen. 

In the meantime, take a look at the INREV Event Calendar for other events that you might like to attend. 

Thank you to our sponsors