Rope access rigger worker commencing high risk job wearing heavy duty glove holding a safety tag line rope to control a load while crane is lifting in construction building site, Perth Australia

Building ministers have agreed on the importance of an ambitious agenda for Australia’s building sector – here’s what that should look like.

When Commonwealth, state and territory building ministers met in November, they collectively expressed the importance of an “ambitious agenda on energy efficiency and a lower emissions built environment”.

ClimateWorks’ recent report on state and territory climate policies showcases what an ambitious agenda for the building sector could look like. A nationwide program that is aligned to net zero emissions, and that benefits households and businesses, would include actions that drive: 

  • large-scale uptake of energy efficient appliances and building-envelope retrofits
  • electrification of buildings and the full phase out of fossil fuel gas use
  • construction of highly efficient, all-electric new buildings
  • lower embodied emissions of building construction
  • increased uptake of rooftop solar and battery storage
  • the roll out of charging infrastructure in buildings to make all car spaces EV ready

These actions would enable what the building ministers are seeking to achieve: making homes and buildings “future ready”.

They would provide for healthier, more comfortable homes and reduce energy bills for households. These changes are necessary if Commonwealth, state and territory governments are to meet their net zero emissions commitments.  

Governments are already moving, but action needs to be accelerated and coordinated

All Australian states and territories are taking action to improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions in buildings.

The Australian Capital Territory, for example, is progressing towards no fossil fuel gas use across the economy by 2045, and introducing minimum energy efficiency standards for rentals. Victoria is adopting minimum heating efficiency standards for rentals, and New South Wales’ updated Design and Place State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) will incorporate, for the first time, embodied carbon considerations.

Policies such as these are breaking new ground, but action is currently piecemeal and inconsistent between jurisdictions.

ClimateWorks’ modelling shows that in a scenario aligned to 1.5 degrees of warming, the energy use per household halves. Energy use per square metre of floorspace reduces by a third in commercial buildings, and the building stock is entirely electrified by 2040. We also see a 116 per cent increase in rooftop solar generation. 

To achieve this, large scale coordinated action from government and industry needs to begin now. Building ministers have a key opportunity to enable these changes through their future meetings.

The role of the National Construction Code

The communique released after the building ministers’ meeting in November notes that a key focus for ministers in the first half of 2022 is discussing the draft residential energy efficiency provisions for the 2022 edition of the National Construction Code (NCC).

Implementing strong energy performance standards – which have already been committed to by NSW and Victoria – without any further delays is fundamental to an ambitious agenda for low emissions buildings.

The next step is to provide longer-term certainty for industry, building owners, and tenants by setting forward targets for the NCC beyond 2025 – when requirements will next be reviewed after 2022 – and committing to a zero emissions-ready building stock.

An ambitious agenda beyond the National Construction Code

Improvements to the National Construction Code will play a key role in making Australia’s building stock less energy and emissions intensive, as well as healthier, more comfortable and cheaper to run.

At least one million homes need to be retrofitted to the highest energy efficiency standards every year in the next decade to decarbonise the building sector in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

But a more comprehensive agenda is needed, one that looks at retrofitting existing buildings at the same time as ensuring new buildings are constructed with a net zero emissions future in mind.

The technologies to decarbonise the building stock are mature and commercially viable. The task is to deploy them at the scale needed. ClimateWorks’ initial estimates suggest that at least one million homes need to be retrofitted to the highest energy efficiency standards every year in the next decade to decarbonise the building sector in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

While governments across Australia are progressing policies to drive emissions reductions and improve building standards, real ambition that is economically efficient and provides consistency to the industry will come from collective action between governments and engagement with stakeholders across the industry.

Key topics such as preparing Australia’s buildings for electric vehicles, and phasing out fossil fuel gas use over the coming decade, would be best addressed in a forum like the building ministers’ meeting.

Building ministers have now acknowledged the need for an ambitious agenda for energy efficient, low emissions buildings. In 2022, they have the opportunity to begin implementing this agenda.

Simon Graham is a senior analyst with ClimateWorks, Michael Li is a senior project manager

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  1. This photo screams ‘WTF’ – Rope access rigger worker commencing high risk job wearing heavy duty glove holding a safety tag line rope to control a load while crane is lifting in construction building site, Perth Australia
    NO ROPE; NO HEAVY DUTY GLOVE; NO SAFETY TAG LINE; NO SAFETY HARNESS; a 20-50kg load handled outside of safety barriers that could assist gravity in pulling the worker from a height onto protruding reo bar = major injury or death!! Let’s ramp up the construction industry and WHS be damned!! Perhaps unintentional but a perfect juxtaposition nonetheless.