Bad news on building products, plugging up the rabbit holes, and calls to change the EUA rules in Victoria

16 February 2012 – The Building Products Life Cycle Inventory goes to the heart of the sustainable property industry: the understanding and measurement of the life cycle impact of building materials.

It’s in trouble.

In this issue Lynne Blundell finds that the people who have been plugging away at this most difficult and complex objective have been slung a nasty confluence of destructive factors.  A mix of the global financial crisis, the high Australian dollar and deaf ears from the government is threatening the project and leading to an onslaught of cheap imports that badly compromise sustainability and sideline the project’s potential.

In another example of the highest quality reporting Blundell reveals a modern day tragedy.

The brave ones among the cohort of people driving the project say a solution will be found. Others are not so sure.

No more rabbit holes…maybe
There’s great news about the new Coalition government in Victoria. We think…

Give it credit.

It’s come into power with a kind of crash-burn mentality over environmental issues; it’s ditched wind power altogether, dutifully dumbed down solar, installed the guys and some gals (actually, are there any gals?) in all the sweet spots, and put Sustainability Victoria in holding pattern for what is now nearly 15 months.

Meanwhile the property industry has been twiddling its thumbs. It’s been wondering when it will finally get some serious policy settings and if these are going to destroy its new found enthusiasm for sustainability and building efficiency with a government lurch down the rabbit hole.

But wait. It seems there are some good signs.

The selective release of a draft new direction for SV seems to indicate the government has opened its ears to what we understand has been strong support for the agency in the submissions to the review.

Our sources say Ryan Smith, the Minister for Environment and Climate Change with responsibility for SV, has been somewhat surprised.  And maybe a little taken aback.

Instead of a lurch down the rabbit hole, it seems the draft review contains some sensible long term strategic thinking. (And our source here is deep green.)

Things like long term objectives, green opportunities and green jobs, reducing emissions and environmental impacts on the economy.

Key target areas for action are still business – such as reducing pressures of the cost of doing business through environmental efficiencies – but also for reducing pressure on the cost of living, in the same way. Not so much of a focus on water, however, since it’s reasoned that this is already being well handled elsewhere in government.

An important area that’s emerged in the draft is a focus on distributed energy such as co-gen and tri-gen.

Our sources say that much of the support in the submissions came from big chunks of the government’s core interests, business.

Sadly the submissions are still unpublished on the website. Minister?

Jennifer Cunich

Property industry is watching the rabbit hole
So how does the Property Council’s Victorian branch feel about the new government’s agenda?

Executive director Jennifer Cunich told The Fifth Estate that in some ways it’s been a slow process.

“We’re still trying to get a handle on where the government is trying to position itself. Now we’re starting to see things coming out. We’ve had meetings with Sustainability Victoria and while there’s been no announcement we’re reasonably hopeful there will be a stronger focus on existing building stock.”

More than anything Cunich’s members are concerned with the B and C grade buildings, which are the category that are most inefficient and most urgently need to be upgraded.

Cunich is confident the government is getting the message that for the property industry, at least, sustainability is important and needs to be supported by the government.

Her members are “quite passionate about sustainability,” and there are multiple programs to achieve it, she says.

Five years ago, the comments were that it was too hard.

“Today it’s not even factor; it’s a given.

“You do it as part of your business and if you don’t do it, you’re slipping behind.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if the submissions [to the SV review] from the property sector was that we should be leading the charge in sustainable buildings.”

A key point for action is to change the legislation on the Environmental Upgrade Agreements, designed to allow repayments for energy upgrades to be levied on council rates

Cunich says the Melbourne version of the legislation, with its insistence that all tenants in a building need to agree and sign up the contract is proving too onerous.

So far the government has been resisting the calls to alter the laws.

That will change when NSW starts notching up some EUA announcements, Cunich says.

In fact the first one is expected in weeks.

The Act The Act
Other issues that the state government is being closely watched on is its attitude to the Climate Change Act 2010 which it supported before its election.

Part of that act requires an adaptation strategy to be created, and though the deadline is still a few months off, there’s no sounds of impending action.

A review of the greenhouse gas reduction targets has been triggered by the carbon price legislation but the concern is to ensure the review won’t point the state into regression.

Victorian Climate Change Act 2010

Here’s an extract from the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment

The Climate Change Act was passed by the Victorian Parliament with broad support in September 2010 and came into effect on 1 July 2011. It is available at the Victorian Legislation and Parliamentary Documents website.

The Climate Change Act creates a legal framework for key actions and initiatives in responding to climate change in Victoria. It:

  • Repeals the Forestry Rights Act 1996 and creates new arrangements for the ownership, registration and transfer of forestry and carbon sequestration rights to facilitate development of the emerging carbon sequestration industry, bring Victoria’s legal framework in line with national approaches and allow Victorians to easily participate in State and national sequestration efforts. Find out more on carbon sequestration rights on private and Crown land.
  • Requires the government to develop a Climate Change Adaptation Plan every four years, outlining the climate change impacts and risks to Victoria and the government’s priority areas for response
  • Requires the government to report every two years on climate change science and emissions data
  • Enables the government to enter into Climate Covenants with communities, regions, industry and other stakeholders, enabling them to take ownership of climate change issues and empowering them to be innovative and proactive in their response to climate change
  • Requires decision makers to take climate change into account when making specified decisions under the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994, Coastal Management Act 1995, Environment Protection Act 1970, Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988, Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 and Water Act 1989.
  • Amends the Environment Protection Act 1970 to enable the Environment Protection Authority Victoria to regulate greenhouse gases

Legislates Victoria’s new emissions reduction target of 20% by 2020 (based on 2000 levels)

And here is the government announcement of the review, dated 22 October 2011

Minister for Environment and Climate Change Ryan Smith today announced the details of the Victorian Climate Change Act (2010) Review.

The Climate Change Act drafted by the former Labor Government, includes a provision under section 19 which mandates that the Victorian Minister for Environment and Climate Change immediately undertake a review of the Act should legislation for a national emissions trading scheme be introduced by the Commonwealth government.

“The Commonwealth has introduced legislation that triggers an automatic review of the Climate Change Act.

“This review will help to provide greater coordination between federal and state based activities to address our impact on the climate and the climate’s impact on us.

“It is imperative that we avoid duplication and minimise the waste of Victorian resources, while making the most of any opportunities that may be identified in the review.”

Specifically, the review will examine:

  • the impact of the national carbon price on the Victorian Government’s climate change policy objectives as outlined in the Act; and
  • appropriate policy mechanisms to achieve the Victorian Government’s policy objectives as outlined in the Act.

The review will be conducted by Dr Lynne Williams.

A former senior bureaucrat, Dr Williams was Under Secretary for the Victorian Department of Treasury and Finance. She has spent over 30 years working for State and Federal Governments. She has provided advice to Federal and State governments on economic, environmental and social policy issues. Dr Williams will be assisted by senior officials from the Department of Sustainability and Environment and the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

“While the review is underway, it will be business as usual and the provisions of the Climate Change Act will remain operational.

Submissions were due 28 November last year.