A Dr Who moment, all over the place

Connect the dots -anything can happen

1 July 2010 – We live in volatile times. Change is not only more frequent but also more oblique. What seemed absurd or radical or weird only last year – or last week – can suddenly become mainstream.
For the aware and alert, it’s a Dr Who moment, where a rent in the fabric of time creates the opportunity to dive in and change things forever.

Here are some of the big signals:

Politics

“La Gillard” (Julia Gillard) has guillotined the old prime minister and now we have our first female federal political leader. What this means for climate change action is uncertain: probably nothing in the short term; in the long term maybe everything. The key environmental value of what has happened is that it has exposed for public consumption the true power centres running this country: how closely environmental issues, mining and politics are linked.

That’s an interesting piece of information for the voting public to understand.

The chop fell just as two million voters had swung behind the Greens after the backdown on the carbon pollution reduction scheme and only weeks after the UK entered a new era, with a third party holding the balance of power – a factor probably far more significant than idle waffle about Kevin Rudd’s personality.

How long do we give Gillard before the voters decide she dances too close to the wolves and will deliver less than Rudd on “value issues”? The rising tide of the Greens is only in ebb; it hasn’t sunk down the San Andreas Fault.

The big intersection – where environment crosses over the line into the economy
Consider this: in the UK, 12 per cent of all dividends to investors – institutional and private – come from a single source: BP.

This small time bomb of information comes courtesy of James Cameron, vice-chairman of Climate Change Capital with $1.5 billion in green investments, who was visiting Sydney last month as guest of corporate networking group the Australian and New Zealand Sustainability Circle.

In only a few weeks, global industrial giant BP did the unthinkable and suspended dividends in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill catastrophe. At the same time, its cost of debt spiked to reflect the bigger risks of its operations – now so much more apparent – and there is speculation it could soon file for bankruptcy because the oil spill could be 20 times worse than publicised.

Even if it does survive, Cameron asks what this does to the risk profile of the fossil fuel industry to which so many institutional invests are firmly wedded. And all this at a time that the UK faces a fragile investor psyche, so soon after the global financial crisis (did it really end?) and in an economy saddled with dangerous spending cuts.?It could be the big intersection of environmental costs – finally, clearly, expensively – into the economic zone.

Green movement grows up
More change at the Green Gate. Read the insightful profile from Lynne Blundell on Romilly Madew, boss of the Green Building Council of Australia, and see how this leader is not to be taken for granted.

Yes, the GBCA made changes, moves that some people say show a softening in its sustainability stance. Madew faces these issues head on and says some of the controversial changes – such as on vinyls – are highly defensible. Australia has made progress in getting rid of toxins from the manufacturing process, she says, and the vinyl industry has demonstrated that materials manufacturers can adapt and respond to what the market is asking for.

And yes, the Green Building Council needs a review, as does any organisation into its “adolescence”, and a major review is underway.

What happens in this sphere of the sustainability industry will have huge ramifications. As some disgruntled manufacturers of building materials point out, a Green Star rating now dominates and ostensibly controls which suppliers are in and which are out.

Should such power come under some form of government regulation? Never, says Madew.

Urban un-myths
Public transport is up. Car use is down. Density is on the rise and light rail is growing around the country. “There are a all kinds of light rail proposals,” says Peter Newman.

“If that continues for the next 30 years, we’ve got all kinds of problems solved.”

“You certainly wouldn’t want to invest in toll roads.”

It’s a huge opportunity to decarbonise the cities, say professors Newman and Peter Newton, who are using new sophisticated spatial information systems and data bases to identify urban land redevelopment opportunities that can fast track the trend  – especially in the so-called “greyfields” sites in the middle of ring suburbs that may be ageing while underutilised.

Climate deniers?Where are they now? The meaningless ravings of a few nutty professors. Sidelined, irrelevant. Dissolving into their own deluded hubris. The serious world moves on: pollution, poor practices in building design and techniques, toxic materials, fairness to fellow humans. We all need to lift our game.

The business world, led by property – as usual – is busy rewriting its sustainability vision. From GPT to Stockland and Mirvac – even Walker Corporation has a new six star Green Star building in Canberra.
Green action is endowed with significant strategic value these days.

The stockmarket
Need we say more?

And on another issue: NABERS – the secret
NABERS has been the missing link for the engineers who love to retrofit buildings to more sustainable energy-efficient levels. Easy to use; useful to the building owner, tenant and technical aficionados alike.?So why the recent backlash?

We know NABERS needs tweaking – some variations in the underlying formulas mean that, at around 2.5 stars and below, buildings in Melbourne rate lower than buildings in Sydney.

That’s under review and is to be fixed. But there’s more to this story.

According to the insiders’ views, the real problem with NABERS isn’t NABERS at all but mandatory disclosure’s definition of what an office building is.

According to just-passed legislation, offices of 2000 square metres or more need to be NABERS assessed at the point of sale or lease.

Think about it: developers have done a great job of creating hybrid office/industrial premises that blur the boundaries of uses. They are not so easy to unscramble.

In many of these facilities the only way to separate the energy ratings of the base office building and the rest of the premises might be to turn off the operations while you put in separate metering systems. Not exactly a very feasible thing to do.

Some city offices have been caught because savvy tenants have offered to put their air-conditioning system onto their own electricity metering system – and now the owner has no way to create a base building rating.

The only rating available in this case would be a whole building assessment, which is not much help to the owner when he or she is looking to disclose base building energy to a prospective tenant.

If you can shed more light on these complex issues and how the industry is finding solutions, please contact us at: editorial@thefifthestate.com.au

tperinotto@thefifthestate.com.au