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THE OXYGEN FILES  – A weekly round-up of news and what it means

It was the non-policy announcement many of us have been dreading, when energy minister Angus Taylor this week responded to a question from Greens MP Adam Bandt about the Renewable Energy Target by saying it would end in 2020, and there are no plans to replace it with anything at all.

The timing couldn’t have been worse. So many were hoping Australia might get back on track to at least trying for lower emissions.  especially as the latest data from NDEVR Environmental Consulting showed national carbon emissions are still way over the trajectory needed to meet our Paris target.

One government claim is that steep emissions reductions will lead to an increase in energy prices. This theory, (or furphy) got blown out the water with the release of a report prepared by Frontier Economics for the Brotherhood of St Laurence and the Australian Council of Social Services, people whose job it is to know these things.

“The idea that we need to choose between cheaper energy prices and limiting global warming is misleading and short-sighted, and does a huge disservice to our community, especially to people on low incomes,” ACOSS chief executive Cassandra Goldie told The Guardian.

The Prime Minister, meanwhile, coined a new term to justify his support for fossil fuels, “fair dinkum power”.

But the genuine “fair dinkum power” that is really grabbing headlines this week is the type expressed at the ballot box. For a start, the Wagga Wagga Daily Advertiser last Saturday ran with a front page on confirming the election of Independent Joe McGirr as the city’s new state MP.

Dr McGirr is a GP and former lecturer in rural health. He has also been involved in the Climate and Health Alliance and was part of a special working group on the impacts of climate change on rural and regional people’s health.

His victory in the election overturned more than 60 years of Liberal possession of the seat.

The other doctor making headlines this week is Sydney City Councillor Dr Kerryn Phelps, who according to the Sydney Morning Herald has climate change as one of her top priorities should she win the by-election for the seat of Wentworth, as former PM Malcolm Turnbull stands down. (UPDATE: In late breaking news on Friday however, Phelphs has confused everyone by declaring she would prefernce the Libs, a party that’s currently supporting an anti climate agenda.)

Dr Phelps is running as an Independent, and already the Liberal party machine is gearing up the scare-mongering around the possibility she could destabilise the government if elected, which seems an ambit claim given what an excellent job it’s  been doing atdestabilising all by itself.

Hickory’s H Building draws ire

H Building, a division of Hickory Group, got some seriously bad press this week, going into voluntary administration mere days before a VCAT hearing on its liability for millions of dollars of rectification required for three apartment buildings that have flammable cladding on the facades.

As ABC reported, the apartment owners are now feeling the sting of the lack of Builders Warranty Insurance required for multi-residential buildings above three storeys in Victoria. When the company vanishes, so does any easy means of financial redress.

As governments dither on net zero property pledges mount up

Last Week’s Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, which starred government climate change leaders from the Americas, Canada, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Pacific Islands – but none from Australia  – saw a raft of new net zero commitments from Australian property funds.

New signatories to the World Green Building Council’s Net Zero Buildings Commitment include AMP Capital Wholesale Office Fund, Frasers Property Australia, GPT Wholesale Office Fund, Stockland’s retirement living and logistics divisions, Cundall, and the City of Sydney.

The Green Building Council of Australia says signatories are pledging to reach net zero operating emissions in their portfolios by 2030, and to advocate for all buildings to reach that target by 2050. The emissions footprint or lack thereof also needs to be verified by an independent third party system.

One of the interesting aspects of commitments such as GPT’s in the aim to obtain renewable energy from within Australia to offset any emissions, rather than buying carbon offsets from some other nation’s clean energy development, for example hydropower in China.

The real low hanging fruit that remains to be plucked in terms of these types of pledges is the residential and retail sectors.

It will be fantastic to see the best practice process of get the design right, ensure the envelope is sealed, verify sealing and insulation installation through testing, install energy-efficient fixed appliances, stick on rooftop solar and put in batteries rolled out at scale across masterplanned residential communities in NSW, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT.

It’s already been done in Western Australia with White Gum Valley, LIV and others – let’s hope the big resi players on the east coast get a case of green thinking envy soon.

Bigger population? Yes please!

One of the more controversial issues canvassed in the Building Up & Moving Out report was the question of population, specifically, whether the sky-high house prices and congestion woes of Sydney and Melbourne justify lowering immigration levels.

It’s also a perspective that has been tossed about by anti-immigration MPs and others recently. Westfield founder, Frank Lowy, made headlines with his response to the idea we should slow the flow of people.

In a speech to the Lowy Institute, he said Australia should take more immigrants – not less.

But not everyone feels that way. A majority of South Australians also want to see more immigration, according to a recent poll by the Property Council’s SA branch.

A report said 65 per cent of people surveyed believed the state could accommodate a bigger population if it is well-managed and properly planned, and 63 per cent believe the state would benefit from migration.

In Victoria, the government has been addressing the issue of where migrants settle through funding and other support to assist migrant families to move to regional areas where there is a shortage of skilled labour, particularly for agriculture and associated value-adding industries.

Better window design could be a boom business

The mosquito is one of the main images media used in reporting on the health risks from climate change when the Queensland Human Health and Wellbeing Climate Adaptation Plan was released. This led us to wonder, why aren’t we seeing window screens on the majority of new apartments? And what’s with the floor to ceiling sliding glass doors that are also unscreened?

We asked Envirotecture’s Dick Clarke if he has been seeing many projects that have specified insect screens. The answer was, not always.

One of the issues is the aesthetic one, and there is also a cost dimension.

But Clarke flagged an even more important issue – cross-ventilation. While the planning and design rules mandate that architects must design for cross-ventilation, the safety rules in NSW mandate that no bedroom window is capable of opening further than 100mm if it is above the ground floor unless has a screen or other element installed that will prevent children falling out.

Clarke says the result of this rule clash is that while apartments are designed for cross ventilation, in most cases the windows can’t be opened far enough for it to work.

The missing link is a window screen that is strong enough to prevent a child pushing through it, attractive looking and economical from the budget point of view. Current product choices such as security bars, “shark mesh” and security grilles generally do not cover all three bases.

So here’s a call out to some clever designer/manufacturer who wants a big order of better designed windows.

Useful reading

We have been hearing that home energy efficiency upgrades are a growing market for companies in the insulation, draught-proofing and window films sectors, among others. The USA-based Healthy Building Network has just released a handy guide for those working on multi-residential upgrade projects, Making Affordable Multifamily Housing More Energy Efficient: A Guide to Healthier Upgrade Materials.

“Energy efficient buildings are crucial to the long term well-being of people and the planet that we all share,” lead author and HBN senior researcher Rebecca Stamm says.

“Yet, insulation and air sealing materials, two of the most common interventions performed in energy-efficiency upgrades, can introduce many chemicals of concern into buildings. As we work to improve the energy efficiency of our buildings, we must also weigh the potential health impacts of building materials on workers, occupants, and the broader environment.”

Willow Aliento is associate editor, The Fifth Estate. Send tips and feedback to willow@thefifthestate.com.au

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