Ian Dunlop will deliver keynote speech at UTS

Five things happened in the past week that have left a deep impact at The Fifth Estate.

1. A meeting with Ian Dunlop, cool strategic corporate leader, previous head of the Australian Coal Association, Cambridge educated engineer, now climate campaigner. We were preparing for a talk he would give for Engineers Australia at UTS on 2 August (with The Fifth Estate on a panel after).

Dunlop outlined in chilling precision why the Paris Agreement is now a major impediment to action now we’ve reached the climate emergency we feared. Even with just one degree Celsius warming the feedback loops scientists warned on are well underway. Think one kilometre plumes of methane spilling out of the ocean and melting tundra, think arctic meltdown, two metres of sea level rise locked in and 3-4 degrees on the way. Yet from Paris comes the tippy-toe “let’s keep playing this game, just nicer and maybe a wee bit faster”.

What Dunlop will tell the audience is that we need to move to an emergency political scenario. Think war footing. Say it a few times and it will stop shocking. You’ll get used to it.

Dunlop, not a man you would think is prone to histrionics – he is an engineer after all – is another voice saying the close tie of the last election is a good thing. We need to seize this opportunity and take it further, encourage, push and prod our pollies to reach across all the political divides and work as one, as you would if a common enemy was on the rise. Which it is.

In a recent paper he worked on with David Spratt, Climate Reality Check, after Paris, counting the cost, Dunlop says, “We have left it too late to solve the climate dilemma with a graduated response; emergency action, akin to placing economies on a war footing, remains essential.

“This is not irrational alarmism, but an objective view of the latest science and evidence, as set out in this paper, which should be read and absorbed by every decision maker. New leadership, prepared to grasp and act on this reality, is essential.”

The way forward, he says – because he’s an engineer and what engineer would leave you without a solution? – is we need a rapid ramp up of community, corporate and investor pressure to “force the pace of political change”.

There has never been a better time to put pressure on our political leaders.

2. A lunch hosted by WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff where resident susty firebrand Richard Palmer told it like it is. In 15 years of all the Green Star, NatHERS, BASIX and NABERS ratings that have lifted the top end of the market by 50 per cent in terms of energy intensity performance, emissions intensity in the commercial sector overall have improved by a pathetic two per cent … five per cent in residential.

In other words the trickle down effect in sustainability has been as effective as the trickle down effect in economic theory. It doesn’t work. Palmer has a raft of ideas about how to give the next leg up to sustainability in the urban environment. All great ideas. All long-term plans. And based around precincts and integrated utilities to create more sustainable outcomes.

This is well judged.

Palmer didn’t say, but it’s worth pointing out we hear a lot about 23 per cent of carbon emissions created by buildings, but the truth is that cities account for 70 per cent of carbon emissions and it’s in this industry’s bailiwick to tackle the emissions from all the urban areas. Not just individual buildings. The property industry does the design and planning for all our cities; it works at the macro scale and can control even the impact of transport. So what’s with the 23 per cent. Let’s talk about the 70 per cent.

But there’s one sure-fire method to success Palmer said would not be accepted by the property industry – mandatory minimum standards. Why? We have our theories. Read on.

3. The Energy Efficiency Council on Tuesday released what it claims is a very comprehensive and highly detailed road map for energy efficiency across the Australian economy, but the single thing that would make that happen super fast, mandatory minimum standards, was left as a metaphorically shy squeak from the back of the room, somewhere in the document for sure, but not blasted loudly from the front as you might think it’s well and truly time for.

It would be flagged for “discussion”. It would have a comfortable time frame for such.

Okay. We get that this is an industry that doesn’t like regulation. No one likes being told what to do. Least of all The Fifth Estate, which is why this publication relishes its independence. But whatever we want we must accept that we need to pay people properly, that we need to pay rent, that we need to do our taxes every sodding year (it’s not the taxes that we object to but the paperwork!).

And we know we need to be honest and transparent. Well that bit is easy because anything else would be just too hard.

So amidst that set of rules we accept there is a common good that justifies the pain of complying with the regs.

Tempering climate change is far more important than anything else we can think of. And it’s more urgent.

Why so timid about mandatory energy performance standards?

There are things the market just won’t deliver.

The market delivered energy efficiency and sustainability at the top end because there is the value of market leadership. Now we hear that the tenants in many of those buildings don’t care much for their base buildings and if they’re mid tier they don’t care for sustainability at all.

So why aren’t we mandating the thing that can help bring down emissions rapidly?

It seems we don’t frighten the “horses”. Horses be damned (with respect to these wonderful animals). The whole of humanity would be frightened witless right now if it looked front-on not at science any longer but the visual and palpable evidence.

Maybe these skittish horses (with their powerful lobby groups) are likely to rear up and bolt because they are concerned that the laggards might catch up to them and threaten the premiums rents and capital values they enjoy from being sustainable.

Maybe this is the elephant in the room of our much vaunted voluntary, industry-backed display of noble greenness and goodwill to all men (and women).

Hmmm, star performance is great and we have to hand it to the heroes of the revolution who did it, but gee fellas and gals, isn’t it time you gave a leg up to the poor sods below?

4. The launch of Greenland’s leisure centre at nbh at Lachlan’s Line at Sydney’s Macquarie Park last Thursday. At first we were not going to attend this event. It was deadline after all. But on second thoughts, we realised this is a project of greater than average importance.

Its developer is Greenland, China’s biggest developer, government owned and now with more than $3 billion in the development pipeline about to unfold in our midst. That’s not all. The project is on a site masterplanned by UrbanGrowth NSW. On display were six tall buildings. Each had empty spaces on the roof. No solar panel in sight. No mention of distributed local energy grids, or onsite water treatment. Sustainability? It was right next to one station and close to another. It would have some community appeal. And it met BASIX requirements. The low minimum standards.

We asked the developer’s reps. Well, they’re in this to be profitable, they said. They would meet the market demands. At the next big project in Erskineville there was a better than even chance it would be sustainable because of the inner city demographic.

All reasonable. But in a master planned community there is an option to mandate all sorts of outcomes, from colour to size of house and even style.

UrbanGrowth has a brilliant opportunity to do this.

Greenland won’t care. They will do what the law and regs tell them to do. You would think.

Governments everywhere need to do what they’ve been elected to do.

5. A chink of light. Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce unleashed a full spray on Pauline Hanson’s racist divisive views on Wednesday and said this was “just not the way Australia works”.

“I am incredibly proud of the nation we have,” he said.

“Everybody says this but I have got good mates who are Muslims who are in the agricultural sector, really good mates. I’m not going to start running around throwing rocks at them.”

And is it possible that Pauline Hanson herself on Q&A this week, we imagine, showed that when confronted by the humanity of the Muslim people at her side, on the panel (Sam Dastyari) and in the audience, could be, just maybe, wedged to concede that not all Muslims were dangerous murderous terrorists.

Hail to the idea of working together. Especially when this woman was able to claim she had four seat and possibly seven in the senate. If you’re looking for something to fear, Ms Hanson, so you can collect more followers, then there’s something that’s bigger than random and brutal attacks; there is a fearsome killer ready to stalk millions and make them hungry and homeless and it’s right here on our doorstep. Turn your mind to climate change, Ms Hanson, and worry the hell out of your fellow Australians.

Oh for the sweet sounds of a government that’s won an election by a slim majority and knows it can no longer be a dumb blunt bully but a rational, inclusive one. It’s what Ian Dunlop was alluding to in our first point – a collaborative government working together for a common purpose.