Building a climate agreement

Photography: Noel Downey

Sanctuary readers already know that the way we build and live in our homes has a massive impact on our carbon footprint, but it was good to see the issue raised on the global stage last week at the Paris climate talks.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, 40 per cent of global energy, 25 per cent of global water and 40 per cent of global resources are used in buildings and buildings account for one third of greenhouse gas emissions. This means the building industry has huge potential to cut carbon emissions, and that low-carbon buildings represent one of the best ways to meet the climate change problem head on.

This year’s climate talks in Paris included the inaugural Buildings Day – a day to examine how buildings and the construction sector contribute to emissions, and what role they play in the fight against global warming. A new alliance was launched of 74 Green Building Councils, governments, companies, financial institutions, and organisations to help countries meet their carbon targets through green building.

Regular Sanctuary expert Dick Clarke is cautiously optimistic about the agreement but pointed out that many are not waiting for a government mandate to make the changes needed. “The built environment is already beginning to move beyond this, there are large chunks of corporate Australia that are beginning to move away from the business-as-usual pack,” he says.“There is a broad sweep of different client types understanding that they get immediate benefits from a small investment in sustainable technology. This means we don’t have to fight that hard to make these things happen.”

He gives solar storage as one example, which in the recent past, “You had to get people to make sure that their dishwashers and washing machines ran when he panels were at their peak, whereas the introduction of battery solar will change all of that. Now, even a battler, will look at financing a PV system with smart storage.”

Post Paris, countries wishing to meet their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions targets will rely more and more on sustainable architecture. In Australia, the Green Building Council has announced a new Net Zero certification for commercial buildings in 2016. A Net Zero building is a one with zero net energy consumption, meaning the total amount of energy used by the building is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on site. Net Zero buildings do not contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, they do sometimes consume non-renewable energy and produce greenhouse gases, but at other times they reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gases by the same or a greater amount. The Net Zero principle is seen as a way to reduce carbon emissions and dependence on fossil fuels.

Dick also sees promise in the growing popularity of well-designed, low-carbon homes. “The gradual uptake of better passive design means that the demand for heating and cooling energy has been reducing,” he says.

He also cites the recent introduction of a Minister for Cities as an emblem of hope for change in the way consider the built environment.

However, there is clearly scope for improvement as Dick says, who is disappointed that “ The Housing Industry Association and the Master Builders Association have yet to join the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC). The Paris talks might give them a bit of impetus to join ASBEC for a more coordinated approach – It is important that everyone sits round one table and talks together.”

“But there is every possibility the built environment may become the stand out leader as we move toward 2020 – everybody recognises that the targets we took to Paris were pretty woeful. We can get to zero net emissions. We can get very close, certainly by 2030.”


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