On hope in Paris but Aussies for coal rule OK

There’s so much happening. Some great news, some appalling.

To ram home what we’re all doing here, this week we had news of a super early bushfire season in WA and the tragic death of four people. Firefighters, not normally prone to emotional outbursts given the the job they do, said they’re seeing more bushfires, more frequently.

“They’re moving faster, grow quicker, are harder to predict and pose greater challenges to fight,” Fire Brigade Employees’ Union secretary Jim Casey said.

Casey was responding to a report from the Climate Council that says fire season length has gone up by 19 per cent between 1978 and 2013.

Seven months of this year have broken temperature records, and this year we will record the hottest ever year on record.

But we don’t need this evidence-based reporting to know our anecdotal experiences are correct. Hang on, this wasn’t supposed to happen for another 30 or 40 years… Not anymore.

This is not hysterical Chicken Little stuff. This is the need for double the number of firefighters, the Climate Council said. Maybe more.

On the positive side there’s the climate talks in Paris, COP 21, that have promised to proceed in defiance of the tragedy in that city. For the first time the COP will host the very first Buildings Day. This is a breakthrough move.

Peter Sweatman, who we met in London last week and who heads Climate Strategy Partners, told us he will speak four times during that day on the amazing and largely untapped potential of buildings to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With 40 per cent of emissions tied up in buildings, it’s clearly great potential that we know is relatively easy to tap. That’s because to do something about how much energy we consume and how much carbon we pump into the atmosphere is not exactly brain surgery. It’s often incredibly easy – we know that reductions of 30 per cent or more can be achieved simply by using common sense and making sure the equipment is working as it should.

But Sweatman is going for more. He wants to roll out energy efficiency programs over a portfolio of buildings and then create a financial instrument to enable this, ending up with a green investment product that can be traded in the growing thirsty world of green investments.

Here’s a teaser from the book we will produce on our climate bonds and sustainable property finance ebook soon:

Sweatman thinks the energy efficiency market is enormous and growing.

“The IEA’s Bridge Scenario draws a line from current emissions down to the emissions required in 2050 by the 2°C target. In this, by 2035, 49 per cent of all the necessary investments are in energy efficiency and would use existing technologies and make economic sense.

“Energy efficiency investing is happening all around us, almost invisibly, making it rather difficult to measure. For example the Spanish government, like the UK’s (which it is about to phase out coal) has a policy that supports the purchase of new cars providing that they have reduced emissions per kilometre travelled, which is a form of energy efficiency investment.

“The same is true everywhere we look: white goods, fridges; they are all about four times more efficient than they were in the 1970s. Aeroplanes are using half the amount of fuel. The list goes on.”

The big breakthrough, though, is the potential to offer a financial mechanism that will appeal to the growing thirst for green investments.

He’s also “very optimistic” that we will see an agreement in Paris at COP2.

Steve Fawkes, a guest at our climate bonds and sustainable property salon in London and who we’ve profiled here before, is doing similar work.

The WorldGBC, which was instrumental in creating the Buildings Day for COP, is also launching a campaign at the event called “Better Build Green”, which will focus on proving the value in green buildings. Part of this, according to chief executive Terri Wills, includes campaign materials and “the WorldGBC Commitment for COP21 – featuring our global ‘collective commitment’, Green Building Councils’ own national commitments, and individual pledges from GBC member companies – all of which will be presented on the new website and at Buildings Day in Paris”.

At COP the agenda will also include:

Ian Lieblich, centre, attended our Surround Sound for Sustainable Precincts in August and featured this week in a new ebook

We’ll be keeping an eye on COP thanks to recent law and civil engineering graduate Ian Lieblich who joined Investa in Sydney early this year. Lieblich will be attending Paris on behalf of newly formed NGO Global Policy Watch in a research and policy advisory capacity for island nations such as Kiribati and Tuvalu that don’t necessarily have the policy resources to match those of the bigger states.

Last year he played a similar role when he was selected as a future leader by Global Voices to be a delegate to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties in Lima, while he was still completing degrees at Monash University.

In Australia our property companies (much admired in the UK, especially for the transformational power of our NABERS regime to which the industry there looks longingly) continue to do well.

Investa this week announced a reduction in its emissions intensity of a massive 55 per cent over a decade.

Now that’s the language Mother Nature understands. Relative performance, benchmarks against your peer group, is actually irrelevant to nature and really belongs in the “points for turning up category” or worse, greenwash.

Unfortunately nature and Earth is not the soft cuddly thing we associate with mossy rainforests. It’s vicious and tends towards chaos if we disturb the finely tuned and miraculous balance that spawned life on this planet.

And we are running out of time. The balance has shifted; we’re in trouble.

Yet what do we see?

On the negative side (enough patting ourselves on the back) we see the two leaders who were the Great Hopes of the sensible, middle ground that cares about the state of the planet, our new PM Malcolm Turnbull and NSW premier Mike Baird, fall over themselves to roll out the red carpet to mining and fossil fuel development.

So while Turnbull can (thankfully) sound the diplomatic bells of political solutions to the atrocities in Paris last week, joined in this approach by the US and even Russia, at home he’s donned the Clockwork Orange gear of his forebear when it comes to coal and fossil fuels.

This week the sad news emerged to give victory to the Turnbull sceptics; it looks like he’s backing Tony Abbott’s outrageous “lawfare” move to stifle the rule of law for those who dare challenge the mining and fossil fuel industry.

This, you will recall, was spawned by the court challenge to Adani’s coal mine in the Galilee Basin in Queensland. So yes, rule of law for those who we approve, no rule of law and law change for those we don’t approve.

Premier Mike Baird, who’s traded strongly on his squeaky clean, values-driven image in NSW, is doing the same in NSW, using the Planning Assessment Commission to favour coal and fossil fuels over property rights of farmers (even rich ones) and many other people. So much for the notion our capitalist system is based on the holy rite (or rights) of private property. Only for some it seems.

See this video about how the village of Bulga about 200 kilometres north of Sydney won a court challenge one day and after a rule change that places economic benefit above all else, lost the next. Twisty, bendy Baird.

See too Elizabeth Farrelly’s article on how landowners are tossed over by the courts now in favour of miners, even though the actual law seems to specify they should be protected.

Of course the economic interests that have been given precedence aren’t really economic interests as such, they are a specific type – the short-term version. Because in the long term, the economic interest will be badly damaged by climate change. It’s going to cost a fortune. Fixing it, though, tackling the clean-up of our environment, funding and building energy efficiency, clean energy, and a healthier cleaner environment, is also an economic interest, but a more broadly distributed one.

Maybe that’s the problem.

Our new ebook

On a final note, it’s fantastic to publish yet another ebook to add to our growing stable of titles. Judging by the hits we continue to get for these it’s pretty clear they’re valued by you, our readers.

This latest book is framed around the exciting Surround Sound for Sustainable Precincts we held in August. This was a follow up to the salon we held on this topic last year and opened up the discussion to a much bigger range of participants, about 80 people in all who got right into the spirit of things and created loads of energetic discussion.

We hope you read the transcript of what our panellists and guests said on the night, as well as the articles that add depth and breadth to the conversation.

Thanks to our lead sponsors Urban Growth NSW, AECOM and Flow Systems and to supporting sponsor Waverley Council