3 June 2011 – Tony Arnel, chair of the GBCA and World GBC, Victorian Building and Plumbing Commissioner, plus holder of a string of other leadership positions including with the Melbourne Comedy Festival, never fails to both inspire and instil a sense of the hard work that’s needed to pull through the advancing chaos that threatens with climate change.

He did it again at the Victorian Property Council sustainability conference last week on May 25 at the Hyatt Hotel in Melbourne, in a follow-up interview with The Fifth Estate later.

“Tim Flannery [Australia’s leading climate scientist] pointed to this decade as the time to act,” Arnel said in the opening remarks at the conference. But, he said, there was some “real action taking place,” especially at the global level.

Arnel and GBCA chief executive Romilly Madew (who also addressed the conference) were both struggling with jetlag from a tour of the world’s green hot spots where they sampled the lead offerings, negotiated with new member countries and worked out what the major challenges would be for Australia in that context.

The message?

Globally, the news is positive on green buildings. There has been “an extraordinary amount of interest” from countries in membership of the world GBC, Arnel told delegates.

“The world GBC is a really exciting space to be in now,” he said. “We have 85-plus members; it’s quite phenomenal growth.

Three years ago, when he became chair, World GBC membership was about 25.

Putting buildings front and centre

For Arnel the trip proved more than ever that if the world had any hope of cutting emissions by the drastic levels necessary, then it was clear that buildings had to be front and centre of the struggle.

The COP 17 negotiations will offer another window of opportunity for this inclusion.

“The World GBC will continue to argue the case for the inclusion of green buildings in this process that gets underway at COP 17 in Durban in November and Rio next year,” he said.

The world – at least outside of Australia – seems to know this. Places like Barcelona are currently in the eye of a debt crisis, with huge protests in the streets, “yet sustainability remains a hot topic,” Arnel said.

At a trade fair he saw “acres and acres” of technologies and ideas, all around sustainability.

China plans to urbanise at a massive rate: the equivalent of building 10 New York cities in the coming decades. Despite this, the country’s new set of five-year plans includes commitment to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent by 2015, with plans to invest between $75 and $100 billion a year in energy-saving technologies for existing buildings such as insulation and glazing by 2020. And yes, Arnel confirms the number is correct.

Networking opportunities at home

For Australians, this was a “great opportunity”. Under development were a number of networking opportunities through corporate membership programs and professional organisations, he said.

“There is no shortage of opportunities for getting involved in green buildings in Europe and China and other parts of the world. You will be not only securing the future of your business, but that of your family and your global family,” he told the conference.

A critical benefit that will flow from the deepening global collaboration on green buildings is a “common carbon metric”, Arnel says. This will give the world both a way to measure the contribution of the built environment to carbon reduction, and harmonised rating tools, at least in terms of carbon measurement, if not the elements that each tool benchmarks.

“The World GBC takes the view that any country should develop their own rating tools; we never thought there should be one rating tool, although in an aspirational sense that might be where you might get to,” he said.

“The tool will close the loop [in rating tools] and that is hugely important for rating tools and it’s well advanced.” As is work on the “fantastic” Green Star Communities tool in Australia, Arnel said.

In support of a high carbon price

On the deliberations about a carbon price in Australia, the World GBC supports a high price, Arnel said, noting the huge aspirational targets of other countries.

Arnel takes a measured view of Australia’s leadership aspirations in the green building movement. Sure, in some countries Australia is seen as a leader at a market transformation level, he concedes, but its achievements pale by comparison to the advances in Europe in green buildings.

“We have a lot to offer and the consultants that work in that space have really developed the technology to deliver very sustainable buildings,” he said.

“But you can’t underestimate the focus on energy efficiency that’s been around a lot longer in Europe.

“We like to think we are in a leadership seat but that’s being a bit generous to ourselves.”

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