With the Olympics looming and other states strengthening commitments to cut emissions by the end of the decade, will Queensland take the opportunity to snatch gold or end up getting stuck on the block?

SPECIAL REPORT: In 2018, Queensland contributed the most to Australia’s emissions of any state. Close to half came from energy generation for households, businesses, manufacturing, construction and mining. 

Fossil fuels, primarily black coal, were the main reason for the sector’s bloated emissions profile according to a 2020 government report. 

While the government hasn’t stopped signing off on new coal mines, with four more approved this year alone, it has started somewhat cleaning up its act with significant investment in renewable energy generation and green manufacturing opportunities.

However, the state is heavily reliant on industry for anything resembling truly progressive steps towards creating more sustainable cities, with Lendlease and ENGIE spearheading major envelope-pushing projects to do with net zero and circular economy. 

Climate action by 2030 

The Queensland government’s Climate Action Plan 2030, released in July of this year, is hugely vocal on the potential for creating thousands of new jobs in the renewable energy sphere. 

“We are seizing the opportunity to establish Queensland as a national leader in a low-carbon economy and create 185,000 jobs, the most out of any state in the country,” Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said at the time.

For a government held hostage to the prospect of job cuts in the fossil fuel sector this makes a lot of sense. 

Key targets of the plan are to reach 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030, a 30 per cent  emissions reduction below 2005 levels by 2030 and ultimately to arrive at net zero emissions by 2050.

The plan also involves becoming a major exporter of hydrogen, including the development of a large-scale renewable hydrogen facility at Gladstone in the state’s north. The plant is also expected to help cut local industrial emissions.

Already Queensland has 44 large-scale renewable energy projects either operating, under construction or financially committed (compared with 41 active coal mines, not including those in care and maintenance, rehabilitation or are otherwise inactive).

Combined with rooftop solar installations, around 20 per cent of the state’s electricity now comes from renewable energy sources.

First cab off the rank in the new action plan is an additional $25 million of investment towards the second round of the Land Restoration Fund (LRF). 

The LRF aims to create a pipeline of state-based carbon offset projects that help create healthier patches of environment, alongside additional socio-economic and First Nations co-benefits.

The first round of the scheme saw over 1.8 million hectares of land restored, resulting in an estimated 1.9 million tonnes of carbon out of our atmosphere.

In the emissions heavy transport sector, Queensland is in the process of introducing electric buses onto its streets and adapting to the EV revolution by introducing charging stations and other infrastructure. 

Government isn’t setting any world records on built environment

On the built environment side of things, the Queensland’s efforts are less a gold medal and more lost in the pack. The state’s “industry focused” building policy plan from 2017, pays lip service to reducing emissions, without pushing boundaries. 

Key actions included removing “unnecessary restrictions” on the installation of solar panels and “actively participating in national forums to recommend and develop improved energy efficiency related building codes and standards.”

Plans to establish an office of Hospital Sustainability within the Department of Health were announced in the recent budget, to be tasked with implementing a $30 million Emissions Reduction Program for hospitals and improving sustainability outcomes across the sector. 

Meanwhile, the $168.1 million Advancing Clean Energy Schools (ACES) program will see the implementation of solar and/or energy efficiency measures at more than 800 state schools over three years.

This is in part to facilitate the installation of airconditioning at over 650 state schools over the next four years through the Cooler Cleaner Schools Program (CCSP).

Brisbane Sustainability Agency

Last year Brisbane City Council rebranded its sustainability branch — formerly City Smart — as the Brisbane Sustainability Agency.

An initiative of the agency is to reduce emissions from Brisbane households, by around 50 per cent to six tonnes per year on average by 2031 across energy, transport and waste emissions.

One of the ways the agency is doing this is through the Brisbane Carbon Challenge, which includes an online toolkit to calculate emissions and provide tips. 

Despite the challenge featuring a virtual launch with ABC favourite Craig Reucassel, by the end of last financial year, only 1550 household carbon calculations had been completed, out of well over 900,000 private dwellings across Greater Brisbane. 

Such underwhelming responses may have prompted Brisbane Council to continue its focus on climate change resilience measures such as flood risk assessments and research into how to create homes more suitable for severe weather events, such as storms, floods and bushfires. 

Private industry leading the charge

The most ambitious built environment carbon reduction programs in Queensland seem to be spearheaded by the private sector, with two examples of large scale projects being Lendlease’s plan for “Australia’s first circular economy community” in Yarrabilba and private developer, Springfield City Group’s intention to create “the world’s greenest city”.

While ambitious, perhaps preposterously so, the plans demonstrate the will that exists within Queensland to compete with the neighbours down south on pushing the sustainability envelope. 

Springfield City Group and ENGIE

International utilities and services company, ENGIE has partnered with Springfield City Group to deliver the ultra sustainable metropolis, which is expected to grow in population from 45,000 to 115,000 by 2038, by which time it aims to be net zero.

Chief development officer at ENGIE Net Zero Energy Solutions, Anna Quillinan said being a city that is still only 25-30 per cent complete, Springfield has the opportunity to set the bar high and introduce novel initiatives to achieve its lofty aim.

“World’s greenest city is a pretty big call. But [the developer] has had the leadership and commitment to say that that’s what they want to achieve,” Ms Quillinan said. 

“They’re building into all of their contracts now, requirements for energy efficiency and for this vision of a net zero city. And so they’re really imparting that on those who are building and developing within the city.”

Unlike the Queensland government, ENGIE understands that using less energy in the first place will cut down on the costs involved with then creating a green energy network. 

“One of the first things we need to do is actually reduce our energy consumption and then we work on decarbonizing the energy source.” 

Areas of focus are maintaining 30 per cent green space, reducing car ownership from 1.98 to 0.8 for each household while ramping up EV charging infrastructure, generating 100 per cent renewable power, developing hydrogen refuelling and implementing energy storage.

Buildings are also a key part of the plan and Quillinan says the city has gone far above and beyond the requirements of what is required. 

District cooling is one initiative being implemented in Springfield that Quillinan said is widely used in Europe, the Middle East and US, but has yet to be embraced in Australia. 

“Instead of every single building having its own cooling system, you centralise that into one plant and you feed chilled water to all of those buildings,” Quillinan explained. 

“What that allows you to do is optimise the size of the cooling so that not every building is oversized, they’re all sort of amalgamated together. And it also allows you to spread the load of the cooling.”

Lendlease at Yarrabilba

Earlier this year we reported on Queensland’s waste system, which insiders described as having fallen behind the rest of the country

At Lendlease’s master planned community of Yarrabilba, the company aims to set national standards for circular economy across agriculture, technology and innovation, utilities management, energy generation and reuse and recycling. 

Expected to be completed in 2042, with a projected population of 45,000, the community has plenty of time to achieve sustainable energy, water, and resources targets, before building on them to become a national leader.  

“A circular economy model builds on the principles of sustainability and resource efficiency,” a Lendlease spokesperson told The Fifth Estate. 

“Through a circular economy approach, we can then look at opportunities to design waste out of the system; reduce consumption; transition to renewables; keep resources in use for as long as possible through repair, re-use, and recycling; and, where this is not possible, find or create end markets.”

The inclusion of the community is central to the plan and features education and engagement strategies teaching residents how to cut down on their individual waste. 

“If Yarrabilba is to genuinely be a circular economy community, that commitment needs to sit with the people who live there,” the spokesperson said. 

“Getting people to understand and be willing to do something different is challenging.

We’ve been lucky to work with Logan City Council who’ve been prepared to be innovative and forward thinking with us. Sometimes there are regulatory barriers, no one’s done it before, but it’s an opportunity.”

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