excavator on a construction site. Road repair, asphalt replacement. Loading of stone and rubble for its processing at a concrete factory into cement for construction work.

The Australian Building Codes Board is now sorting through the of second round comments on Volume 2 of the National Construction Code (NCC) and on the accompanying Consultation Regulation Impact Statement (CRIS). A number of us have participated in a campaign to call for the code to mandate net zero now.

Net Zero Now should be a no-brainer for federal and state governments, our institutions, architects and homebuilders, house-builders, the solar photovoltaics industry, materials producers and suppliers, certainly for new homeowners but especially for anyone who cares about giving our kids and grandkids a survivable future.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was set up by UN to respond to Ms Thatcher’s impassioned speech in 1989 to give the best possible technical advice to world leaders. 

IPPC produced its alarming latest assessment report – AR6 and UN secretary general António Guterres declared that the report was “a code red for humanity”, giving mankind just eight years to radically decarbonise everything. 

Meanwhile a breakaway group of IPCC scientists leaked their findings to warn us that no, we actually have just four years. 

The extreme concern arises because if we cross the last six of 15 climate feedback loops the climate will transition unstoppably to four to six degrees of warming. 

These last thresholds may already be crossed, but certainly will be at two degrees of warming – that we are on track for before 2030. According to Professor Sir David King (former UK Chief Scientist), “Climate Change is not the biggest challenge of our time, it is the biggest challenge of all time”. 

The consequences of failure are apocalyptic and the changes could come very quickly. In fact, the news is dominated already by the start of these consequences – drought and flooding, bushfires, crop failure, starvation, migration and conflict, extreme weather, sea level rise, ocean acidification, coral bleaching, heat stress and disease and mass extinction of species. 

Surely there is no excuse for delay or half-measures – every year of delay adds another 150,000 new homes adding to the problem of building emissions when this could be stopped now.

The knee-jerk reaction to change is always “it will cost too much, who will pay?”  But for net zero houses this is a completely moot question. 

The appropriately discredited creative economics of the NCCV2 CRIS reaches the astonishing conclusion that even a six-star to seven-star energy efficiency is not justified. 

The CRIS gets there by counting the additional costs to homeowners but arbitrarily declares that the benefits to homeowners from reduced energy bills are a loss to the energy retailers, so are transactional in the economy. That is, homeowners must subsidise energy retailers for their reduced revenue. 

However, section 7.2 of the CRIS gives the game away, by looking at just the homeowners’ costs (in mortgage repayments) versus their energy savings. This reveals exactly the opposite – that homeowners save more money in reduced energy bills than their mortgage increases for the seven-star home. 

Moreover, when you do the sums for a net zero home, the energy cost savings are even greater than the additional mortgage payments. So, the organisation that loses out is the energy retailer, because less energy is used from the grid and more is generated from solar on roofs. 

But of course the general public are only voters, not substantial donors to our two major political parties. It has to be up to the public to demand this change.

We know how to build reasonably energy efficient homes. We are the sunniest nation in the world, so a net zero home in Australia is simply a reasonably energy efficient home with no gas connection and a north-facing unshaded roof with enough solar panels to meet the building power loads (we know how to reliably estimate these). 

Choosing to orient the roof slope to the north is usually a zero cost option (quantity surveyors estimate roofing costs based on area regardless of orientation) and across all 96 climate zones, the average additional cost for solar to meet building loads is a tiny 0.7 per cent added to the mortgage. The worst-case additional cost is 2.6 per cent in the Northern Territory, but that is also where buildings have the highest energy consumption, so it is where even with the highest on-cost, there is the highest benefit-to-cost ratio. 

Our homebuilders tend to be conservative and risk averse to change (and especially to regulation), but they shouldn’t be. A net zero home is a tremendous opportunity to innovate and sell value-adds such as extra capacity PV to run electric vehicle chargers, home batteries, swimming pools etc. and to reach profit share agreements with solar providers.

For most material and product suppliers there are opportunities to innovate for products that improve energy efficiency or integrate solar technologies and for solar industries direct opportunities to boost the market.

It’s perplexing that within our professional bodies and trade associations, academic institutions and even organisations whose mission is green or sustainable building there is a reluctance to just grasp this nettle and demand net zero now. 

There’s a conservatism, risk averse to change even where there is no rational reason or excuse for delay for future generations, for immediately affordable new homes, to catch up with the rest of the world. There is a fixation on a pathway to net zero in some future (far off) time, when instead we could just demand it now.

Federal elections are now won by the best funded parties, best able to convince the public with the best PR campaign rather than with the best policies.

The Morrison government won the last election with little to no policies on anything and Labor lost because it couldn’t sell its extensive and complex mix of policies to the public.  Labor now seem to be copying the Coalition’s strategy – trying to be the least, worst option. 

The 67 per cent of people want urgent action on the climate emergency will have to hope that Independents holding the balance of power will drive the change needed. 

So from federal governments, regardless of party, we can expect more of the same – resistance to anything that diminishes fossil fuel industry revenues – so that means delay, obfuscation and dysfunction on energy efficiency, uptake of renewables and electric vehicles. 

But state and territory governments have proved more willing to listen to voters on energy prices and on climate concern and even stepping out-of-line with federal colleagues to do so. 

It is state and territory governments that determine the National Construction Code and together with local governments implement and enforce it. Before building ministers meet to agree the NCC, we need to put them under as much pressure as possible to demand the NCCV2 mandate net zero now.

We also need local governments on board with demanding this change, since more than 100 jurisdictions have declared a climate emergency and 140 have joined the Cities’ Power Partnership. Most of these include commitments for net zero buildings.

So, there is no excuse for not mandating Net Zero Now for the current updates to the NCCV2 – we just need to do it. You can help this campaign by taking simple actions from the campaign website https://zeroemissionhomes.com/

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