Sydney's Barangaroo is expected to be one of Australia's first carbon neutral precincts.

Carbon neutral certification for buildings and precincts is on the way, but don’t expect to just be able to buy offsets and be done with it. A clear commitment to efficiency and renewables will be needed to get the tick of approval, draft standards released by the federal government say.

The voluntary standards, once finalised, will set rules around the measurement, reduction, offsetting and reporting of carbon emissions for both buildings and precincts wanting to make carbon neutral claims.

Buildings

Certification for buildings can take three pathways:

  • a stand-alone certification through the federal government’s Carbon Neutral Program
  • an extension of a NABERS Energy rating
  • an extension of a Green Star – Performance rating

The certification can be for either a whole-building, which includes emissions from occupant activity, or just the base building.

“The base building category is provided as a stepping stone, to provide the property sector with an avenue to begin its carbon neutral journey,” the draft standard states.

To maintain the certification owners will need to measure, reduce, offset and publicly report emissions annually. They will also need an audit every two years. This is to ensure “investor and tenant confidence in the validity of the claim”.

The standard requires emissions reduction activities to be undertaken within the building’s operations “where possible” before turning to carbon offsets. This is in line with the carbon reduction hierarchy of energy efficiency, on-site renewable energy generation and off-site renewable energy generation.

Four-star ratings needed

If a building is going through the NABERS or Green Star pathways, a four-star NABERS Energy or 4 Star Green Star – Performance rating will be needed to qualify for certification.

Buildings that don’t currently meet the four-star requirements can commit to doing so, but will have certification revoked if they do not get there within three years. If a building is not going for NABERS or Green Star ratings, it must develop and maintain an emissions reduction strategy.

All Scope 1 and 2 emissions within the boundary of a building must be included under the standard, and Scope 3 emissions from water, wastewater and waste must also be included in the carbon account.

For other Scope 3 emissions a test of relevance and materiality is recommended to determine whether they should be added to the carbon account. Emissions that are excluded must be disclosed and justified as to why they have not been included.

Precincts

For precincts, the only pathway of certification is through the Carbon Neutral Program. The same initial steps must be taken: measurement, reduction, offsetting, reporting and auditing, though due to the complexity of precincts, with a number of different stakeholders, there are additional considerations, such as working out who will be responsible for managing the project, and what the bounds of the precinct are going to be.

All Scope 1 and 2 emissions must be accounted for, and Scope 3 emissions should be tested for relevance and materiality. Emissions that aren’t accounted for must be disclosed and justified.

Like with buildings, the standard requires that emissions reduction activities are undertaken within the precinct where possible before undertaking carbon offsetting.

Precincts must also develop an emissions reduction strategy that will identify the emissions reduction measures to be undertaken and the quantity of emissions expected to be reduced over a specified timeframe.

The standards have been developed by the federal Department of Environment in conjunction with NABERS, the Green Building Council of Australia, carbon accounting experts and property sector businesses.

GBCA head of market transformation Jorge Chapa said clear definitions of what a carbon zero building or precinct looked like were needed to accelerate the move to net zero.

“Up until now, industry hasn’t had clear guidance, making it hard to make comparisons or verify claims,” he said.

“Our work with the National Carbon Offset Standard sets a clear definition of carbon neutrality. It will help building owners understand how to measure, reduce and offset their operational emissions.

“It will also give tenants comfort that their buildings and precincts are actually carbon neutral.”

A webinar for the draft National Carbon Offset Standard for Buildings will be held on Friday 16 December from 11.30am to 12.30pm.

Submissions on the drafts are being accepted until 10 February 2017.