28 June 2012 – Australia’s peak lobby group for the built environment, the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council released its raft of recommendations for how to adapt to climate change at the annual property/political talk fest, the Built Environment Meets Parliament summit in Canberra on Wednesday.

The report contained the usual list of reasoned and well researched arguments in such documents, but also warnings of  financial risks.

Contained in the report, Policy Framework for Climate Change Adaptation in the Built Environment, are these interesting statistics:

First, how big Australia’s built environment actually is: Quoting figures from Geoscience Australia the estimates in the report as at 2010 Australia are:

  • Residential _ 7,034,888 buildings with a replacement value of $2.9 trillion
  • Commercial – 194,504 commercial buildings worth $2.5 trillion
  • Industrial – 127,399 industrial buildings worth $0.3 trillion.

So, what’s the risk?

According to estimates from the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency from 2008, the exposure in coastal areas alone from shoreline recession and erosion are:

  • Residential: between 187,000 and 274,000 residential buildings, with a value of between $51 and $72 billion dollars.
  • Commercial: between 5800 to 8600 buildings, with a value ranging from $58 to $81 billion
  • Industrial: between 3700 and 6200 light industrial buildings, with a value of between $4.2 and $6.7 billion

All up that’s a risk of up to and $159.7 billion to property.

The specific risks are:

  • building materials could degrade or fail much faster in the event of higher temperatures and more frequent extreme weather events
  • foundations could be compromised by changes to soil composition through significant variations in rainfall, which could lead to collapses
  • buildings may be contaminated and deemed uninhabitable with increases in flood and inundation events
  • properties could be damaged or lost due to storm surges, increased coastal erosion, and higher sea levels, the
  • impacts of which are being seen already in many Australian coastal settlements
  • structural and other building components could fail sooner than anticipated as a result of increased atmospheric pressure loadings caused by more frequent and intense tropical storms and cyclones and damage from increased solar radiation.

ASBEC’s Climate Change Task Group, which authored the report,  says the nation needs co-ordinating council that can bring together the strategic planning, funding and education to minimise the fallout.

It says:”…If the effects of climate change are already being felt, if communities are already under threat, risk management principles would suggest that our focus needs to change from “how are we going to stop it?” to “how are we going to become resilient to it?”

Government itself could make a start, the report said. Its three spheres could each embark on the following strategies:

  • Benchmarks – set benchmarks to measure their performance in implementing adaptation strategies for their own operations
  • Tenders – require the consideration of climate change impacts in tender documents for all relevant contracts
  • Release information – make all site relevant information, such as mapping, readily available through procurement processes, to support the assessment of climate change risks
  • Procurement – streamline procurement processes to ensure there is minimal cost arising from any additional requirements
  • Adaptation – commit to undertaking adaptation work within their own facilities;
  • Leased property – work with private property owners to improve adaptation within properties leased by government, through the use of demonstration projects or ‘green’ lease clauses
  • Report – report annually on their performance against adaptation benchmarks

Chair of the Climate Change Task Group and chief executive of the Australian Institute of Architects, David Parken, launched the framework and said that, “While industry and the community have their roles to play, it is government, the manager of Australia’s regulatory and public policy systems, that needs to show leadership.

“This document outlines effective steps the government can take to protect Australia’s economic and environmental sustainability.

The predominant focus of public policy discussion to date has been on mitigation and greenhouse gas abatement through regulation and placing a price on carbon.

Despite some positive steps by government to address mitigation, adaptation remains low on the public policy agenda.  Yet the continuing prosperity of the nation is dependent on how resilient we are to changes in climate.

ASBEC president, Tom Roper  said a National Built Environment Adaptation Council would help deliver the changes needed to adapt to climate change.

“We will  be able to minimise the adverse impacts experienced during extreme weather events – including death, displacement, mental distress and disruption to economic and other services,” Mr Roper said.

“Suburbs and buildings are still being designed and created based on past climatic experience when we should be thinking of how they will respond to future climatic events, so we can be resilient in 20, 30, 40 years down the track.”

Megan Motto at BEMP 2012 this week

ABEC member Consult Australia’s chief executive officer Megan Motto said the report marked a crucial first step towards genuine and effective collaboration between government and industry.

The government had “shown courage in pursuing an aggressive plan to support carbon mitigation” but had not taken the steps necessary to ensure the nation was resilient to future climate change, Motto said.

“What we need, and what the ASBEC report encourages, is for the government to lead a cross-sector approach to coordinate and prioritise the delivery of adaptation initiatives nation-wide.”

She noted that the ASBEC Policy Framework followed the abandonment of the government’s Tax Breaks for Green Buildings initiative along with the axing of $15.2 million from the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency in the 2012-13 Federal Budget.

“Abandoning the Tax Breaks for Green Buildings was a short sighted decision which completely fails to realise the significant opportunity to reduce emissions through energy efficiency gains in the buildings sector,” she said.

– with Donna Kelly