The road to zero carbon

Governments around the world have committed to the Paris Agreement. For Australia this effectively means transitioning to a zero carbon economy by 2050.

Working out how to deliver on this commitment has big implications for every part of the economy, including property.

Two new reports go to the heart of this challenge.

Last Friday, the Green Building Council of Australia released a discussion paper on a Carbon Positive Roadmap for the built environment. This sets out the steps required for commercial, institutional and government buildings and fitouts to decarbonise.

It’s essentially marking out what it will take to achieve Green Star certification in the future, and the kinds of policies required to support carbon positive buildings.

In doing so, it’s sending a signal that expectations, technology and practice will change in the future and that Green Star – the yardstick of sustainability for assets and precincts – will change with it.

Yesterday the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (a collaboration which includes the Property Council) released a similar themed report focused on building codes.

Everyone knows that the energy efficiency requirements of the National Construction Code will need to lift over time. But what should be the trajectory of this change?

The comprehensive ‘Built to Perform’ report by ASBEC and ClimateWorks Australia argues that it is important to have a forward trajectory mapped out to allow the market to prepare and adjust. It also provides policy makers with detailed modelling of what can be achieved under different scenarios.

While the opportunities for future emissions reductions by increasing the code requirements are significant (19-25 per cent for residential, 22-34 per cent for commercial and 35-56 per cent for public buildings), they are a long way short of a zero carbon future.

They also don’t account for the split incentives that can so often exist within the built environment, where the financial benefits flow to someone other than the party making the investment.

It is clear that a range of policies will be needed if our industry is to make the transition that the broader economy will be expected to make. Regulation on its own won’t get us there.

Incentives and decarbonisation of the electricity grid through greater use of distributed energy must also be on the table. To that end, we have partnered with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to commission research on how to address barriers to more distributed energy in the property sector. This will be launched at Property Congress in September.

The Property Council will continue to play a leading role in shaping outcomes in this complex and challenging policy area.