ClimateWorks Australia chief executive officer Anna Skarbek

It’s possible for Australia to limit temperature increase to 1.5°C but only if every sector – including the built environment – commits to an “all in” approach, according to a new report from ClimateWorks Australia.

The not-for-profit climate research and advisory organisation released a new report on the weekend outlining solutions to achieve net zero emissions across all sectors and meet Australia’s climate goals by 2050.

Speaking at an Australia at Home webinar on Monday, ClimateWorks Australia chief executive officer Anna Skarbek said that to meet Paris commitments we’ll need to deploy mature decarbonisation tech in industries such as the built environment in the coming decade, while simultaneously “pulling through” technology R&D in more entrenched industries for deployment in the decades after.

Having done the same report in 2014, Ms Skarbek is confident in the assertion that decarbonisation is possible given the speed of development in challenging areas, such as aircraft. While they can still only travel short distances, she says electric airplanes “weren’t even on the table” five years ago.

And in the built environment, carbon intensive materials such as steel are increasingly being replaced with cross laminated timber, which sequesters carbon.

She says that mature decarbonisation technologies also “turn out to be stimulus friendly”, in reference to economic recovery on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They are something that can be installed straight away, and is already there. They will help us achieve two goals at once.”

Electricity, built environment, transport heading in right direction

The transition to net zero can already begin in the electricity sector by shifting Australian power generation to renewable energy with proven large and small scale generation. While a full transition to renewable electricity will require additional cost for storage, battery prices have dropped nearly 80 per cent since 2010.

The building sector is also well on its way to reaching its emissions targets through energy efficient design. With better insulation and cheaper appliances such as LED bulbs, net zero passive homes can both cut down on emissions and lessen utility costs for consumers.

Although one of the largest emissions contributors in Australia, transportation is fortunate to have rapidly developing technology, from more accessible electric vehicles to alternative biofuels. For more immediate changes, manufacturers can use existing technology and route optimisation to improve efficiency for both road vehicles and non-road transportation, such as airplanes.

Room for improvement in the industrial sector

The most room for growth rests in the industrial sector, where zero emissions technology remains scarce. In order to significantly reduce, if not eliminate carbon emissions, non-energy factors can be lessened by switching to less emissions intense materials and promoting circular economy principles.

Improvements in transportation and industrial processes rest on the success of the energy sector with the transition to zero emissions heavily dependent on decarbonisation in electricity generation.

The only sector not reliant on energy transitions is agriculture, where the majority of emissions come from non-energy sources such as livestock. To reduce emissions, farmers can further improve crop yields and maximise resource efficiency using satellite monitoring technology while researchers investigate alternatives to livestock practices such as plant-based foods or lab produced meat.

Three different pathways

ClimateWorks presented three potential pathways: a 2°C limit through technology deployment, a 2°C limit prioritising further innovation, and a 1.5°C limit equally distributed between sectors. All three scenarios fall within the 2°C threshold to prevent catastrophic environmental events with 1.5°C as the primary goal set by the Paris Climate Agreement.

Each pathway showed levels of technology deployment and emissions reductions significantly higher than government projections. The government estimated a 16 per cent decrease in emissions by 2030, however, the report estimated a 48-53 per cent reduction under the 2°C limit pathways and as much as 74 per cent reduction under the 1.5°C scenario.

While technological innovation and utilisation are key, the government, businesses and individuals must embrace and drive net zero progress through policy and investment. It is possible for Australia to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C, but only if every sector commits to an “all in” approach.

In this crucial decade, the report proposes an increased role for the government to pass legislation limiting emissions and create incentives to advance development of new technology.

Following these guidelines, according to the report, would also help Australia keep pace with the international community and prevent missed investment opportunities in emerging technology.

  • With Poppy Johnston

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  1. Very well said Nigel, and Graeme.

    Climate Works does not define what ‘better insulation’ means. A greater discussion about heat flow dynamics on buildings is definitely required, and is a subject I have frequently presented in comments to FIFTH ESTATE stories.

    Heat stress resilience in housing is not accounted for in the NatHERS rating system, which is owned by CSIRO and adopted by the NCC via the decisions of the building codes board ABCB, and is anchored on unventilated sealed houses which are artificially heated and cooled, and provides no Star rating option for naturally ventilated housing (free running).

    At the 2018 ‘Senate Inquiry – Current and future impacts of climate change on housing, buildings and infrastructure’, Hansard evidence given by the ABCB CEO Neil Savery (22/3/18) makes interesting reading. At one point, the Chair says “We heard evidence of the problems of energy efficiency that mean you end up with a hot box. Although it’s meeting your energy efficiency standards, it’s not actually good for the design, in terms of heat stress?”

    In a lengthy answer, Mr Savery includes:

    “where energy efficiency doesn’t sufficiently address the issue of heat stress, then we would propose to the board that additional works needs to be done….”

    “Given that we haven’t been given policy direction at this stage, but I anticipate that we will be, I would expect that that is over the next three years…Now, even if we had policy direction today, that doesn’t guarantee that those measures will feature in NCC 2022.”

    In the Senate Inquiry (pgs 85-91), it is revealed that the NCCARF (Univ SA) National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, released a report in 2013 “A framework for adaptation of Australian households to heat waves”. This 2013 report emphasized the need for ‘high Total Solar Reflectance (TSR)’.

    Clause 5.3 ‘Impact of design Options on Cooling Energy’ (pgs 145,146). Quotes:

    “In the last decade, consideration has also been given to the reflectivity of solar radiation from the roof and the impact of reflective foils. Less bulk insulation is required is required with roofs which reflect more solar radiation, such as light-coloured roofs and those who have foil applied.”

    “According to the BCA, the thermal resistance or R value of bulk insulation is based on AS/NZS 4859.1:2002 which requires measurement of the R value at 23degC. However, no consideration has been allowed in the BCA for the degradation of the R value due to temperature. As stated in AS/NZS 4859.1:2002, the R value can degrade….due to peak summer……A fixed R value is also applied in AccuRate”.

    “…The absorbed radiation (of a roof) is a function of the total solar reflectance (TSR) of the roof…Roof surfaces which absorb high amounts of solar radiation can readily reach temperatures of 80degC in hot weather. This temperature represents the driving force of the heat into the building. The dominant form of heat transfer in roofing systems in summer is through radiation. Reflective foils are very effective in reducing this heat flow…and reduces the temperature of the insulation itself, maintaining the R value.”

    Clause 5.12 Conclusions (pg 170) Quote:

    “NatHERS accredited software tools such as AccuRate, are very comprehensive and powerful building models…..Assumed performance of insulated roof in these thermal models is unreliable, and research has shown that the thermal resistance or R value of the roofing system can be as low as half that of the R value of the bulk insulation. The application of roof heat flow reduction measures such as applying a high TSR roof and the use of foil insulation in combination with the likely performance of insulation is able to deliver significant savings, reducing annual air conditioning electricity consumption by 18% on average across Australia. This saving translates to reduction in running costs.”

    References to the above reports can be found in date order: TIMELINE 1952-2019.

    The above information about heat stress resilience in housing has not been enacted in a practical manner as called on. The ABCB supports standards which present tables or statements that do not and never have accounted for real time thermal testing of housing, documents which underpin the ABCB residential building energy efficiency provisions in the NCC. All standards are premised on providing public ‘Net Benefit’, which ought to mean being open and transparent with much greater public participation.

    I further endorse what Graeme Doreian states, and ask the FIFTH ESTATE to pursue Graeme’s requests in respect to all the financial donors’ expectations of ClimateWorks.

    Basically, it appears to me ClimateWorks present at times questionable solutions in their reports as ClimateWorks are just information gathers and co-ordinators as per their website.

    In conclusion, with COVID-19 compelling greater time spent inside residential buildings, human health will be further complicated by the ABCB’s long term policy for increasing airtightness and more insulation, policies that run parallel with increasing condensation and mould, heightened when 6 Star was adopted in 2010.

    We have the absence of heat stress resilience in thermal regulations for housing, and R7 batts now being installed in ceilings of housing in Melbourne without reflective foil insulations, which is the forerunner for the introduction of mandatory 7 Star NatHERS into the NCC 2022. It’s a runaway train that has to stopped.

    I believe that ClimateWorks independently pursue the issues that are presented here in these comments.

  2. Hi Molly,
    I saw a UK article that stated that construction of even a modest 2 bedroom house produced 80 tonnes of Co2e . But for every house built there is transport, health, education and employment infrastructure which makes growth in housing a threat to our emission targets. We must stop our reliance on the housing market for economic growth and that means stabilizing our population by returning to lower immigration and encouraging smaller families ..

  3. Good day Mollie,
    As Climate Works is a not-for-profit climate research and advisory organisation, I am sure that the funding people would be very interested in seeing their funding provides the best possible solutions to protect people in their homes as temperatures increase.

    Thus, I would appreciate that ClimateWorks Australia chief executive officer Anna Skarbek could expand in the Comments section of your article, examples of, to quote from the ClimateWorks report and stated in your article. What “better insulation” means?


    I. As the ClimateWorks report has taken time and research to its conclusions and recommendations, I ask this question which I know the Fifth Estate readers would want defined.

    II. Will ClimateWorks support the most appropriate insulation types and combinations to suit the varying climates of Australia?

    III. Who advises ClimateWorks on the appropriate insulations and how much is required to make the statement? “better insulation”

    IV. I ask the Fifth Estate, in fairness to their readers to provide the ClimateWorks reply to my comments in the comments section of this article please as some people will not want to read through the entire ClimateWorks report.

  4. We HAVE to get to carbon neutral by 2030 to prevent the unstoppable compounding feedback loops that send our climate to 4-6DegC of warming and consign our species and most others to extinction. WHY do none of the building rating systems DEMAND carbon neutrality as a prerequisite to certification. If the Building Rating Systems are supposed to be signalling best practice in the market, surely the survival of the human race SHOULD be at least minimum practice?