Tina Perinotto

10 July 2011 – The Greens stood up and took a bow. The solar industry said was it was on steroids.

No matter which way you look at it, the climate change package announced on Sunday is huge and it’s historic. Most important it’s a chance to save ourselves. It’s also the stimulus package Mark II,  for a low carbon economy.

For the property industry, as with other industries, there will be costs – probably more than were apparent in the lead up – but the package also offers a huge injection of opportunities.

There is a bucket load of money for energy efficiency and renewable energy and  it will spark a flurry of investment and new green jobs with the army of innovators and venture capitalists who have been standing around with their funds burning a hole in their pockets.

The Green Building Council of Australia pointed to:

  • a national energy savings scheme
  • the “Living Greener” website
  • the Clean Technology Program
  • energy efficiency information grants,
  • the Low Carbon Communities initiative
  • Low Income Energy Efficiency Program
  • The Australian Renewable Energy Agency

There is also a $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

One stunning move that went almost unnoticed but was  specifically highlighted by the Greens Green Deputy Leader Christine Milne, is a requirement that the Energy Market Operator develop plans for a 100 per cent renewable energy grid.

This will “force a necessary change of thinking and open up a lot of great minds to the opportunities,” Milne said. “This seemingly small achievement could have one of the biggest impacts of all.”

In places such as the City of Sydney, which aims for low carbon energy for its entire CBD, and has faced head-on the difficulty of cobbling together agreements for distributed energy on its own, this will be very welcome news.

“Of all the emails my office received, of all the community campaigns, the calls for renewable energy have been by far the loudest and strongest,” Milne said.

By no means is the package perfect. But it could never be.

These are unchartered waters.

It’s hard to imagine a more significant public policy announcement, or a more detailed and complex one.

All told, it’s a $9.2 billion injection into a lower carbon future over three years.

You could almost feel the excitement all around the country as the details eked out over the day. It was a bold and confident political flourish to counteract the clumsy uncertainty of the recent past.

Of course, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott,  had a raft of complaints and he runs the risk of sounding like Amy Winehouse, with his No No No. But you get an undercurrent sense that he feels he is fighting the future and would prefer to seize the agenda rather than stop it. After all he and the majority of his political and business allies agree we need to curb carbon and that it will cost. The difference in approach is who pays and how?

Of course, politically speaking, the public mood is a dangerous Hydra’s head that might wreak any sort of damage.  In the past two years there has been a massive collapse in moral fortitude by the Australian people, who not so long ago said they wanted action on climate change and were prepared to pay for it.

Now they won’t have to. In a stunning coup, only the top 10 per cent of people who earn more than $150,000 a year will be out of pocket. The rest will make a slight profit.

But like the top earners, sections of industry and business will not be compensated. Some will eventually decide it’s not worth staying in an old game. This was the case when the shoe manufacturers could no longer compete in Australia, or when the horse and buggy makers had give way to cars.

It’s our ability to adapt to circumstances and the demands of reality that will define the winners. It’s what Darwin was talking about with evolution when he said it will be those who are the most adaptable to change that will survive, not necessarily the biggest or strongest.

Which brings us to property.

The GBCA outlined a long list of costs in its carbon price paper released two weeks ago. Many of them are in materials, and how these will be filtered through to the various components of the industry. These issues will dominate debate until the legislation goes up before Parliament, and after no doubt, in the line up to the next federal election. And who knows how many sustainability fans will remain until the impact is better understood.

Caroline Noller, the former GPT sustainability leader and now founding principal of The Footprint Company, is a strong supporter of sustainability, but today she tells it like it is in a letter to the editor: the carbon price will pinch some and hurt others.

Specifically Noller outlines the cost on building materials. It may mean that investors will opt increasingly for refurbishment instead of building from scratch. We will also need specialists to work out the carbon cost impact right through the product chain. (And perhaps reform that army of carbon accountants that were massing before the last tilt at carbon.)

Refurbishment is certainly a more sustainable option.

In fact it’s core to sustainability and really, an old fashioned type of attitude that our parents might have taught us: to look after what we’ve got first, before throwing it out for the new model.

Our office industry currently throws out roughly 20 per cent of its hardware – 5.6 million of its 28 million square metres – in new fitout churn every year, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ author John Goddard tells us.

Changing that attitude is about as big as it gets in property.

What happened on Sunday is about as big as it gets in politics.

A massive coalition of Greens, renewable energy people, technology innovators, energy efficiency specialists, venture capitalists with huge investment funds burning a hole in their pockets, scientists, environmental campaigners and lobbyists for the planet have finally formed a circle in Canberra. We need to all stand behind them now and make sure we win this battle.

The Fifth Estate – green buildings and sustainable property news