Industry has responded to news that a much-awaited global deal on tackling climate change has been struck (read the text here).

Those representing Australia’s built environment sector have been outlining the importance of buildings in tackling climate change, and how they can help limit global warming to “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels”.

Romilly Madew, chief executive officer of the Green Building Council of Australia, said: “This agreement ushers in a new era – and it’s critical that the role of buildings in achieving deep emissions cuts is recognised.

“Our buildings present some of the cheapest and fastest opportunities to reduce our emissions – and we can do this with proven and readily-available technologies.

“The inaugural COP Buildings Day, held on 3 December, recognised the role buildings play in helping nations meet their ambitious targets.”

Ms Madew said the GBCA was keen to work with [Australia’s] three tiers of government and industry to ensure the built environment can meet its emissions reduction potential.

“This demands a range of coordinated, complementary measures which target buildings and encourage innovative precinct-scale energy solutions,” she said.

“Our industry understands how to deliver low-carbon buildings.

“Now we need the policies and the funding platforms to help us do it on a much larger scale.”

She added that the GBCA will now focus on helping the industry move beyond “low carbon” to “no carbon”, and will be working on developing a net zero label to “recognise and reward projects that make a positive contribution to the environment”.

Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council president Professor Ken Maher said the value of the Paris agreement must be delivered through “tangible actions within a critical period”.

“Buildings account for over 23 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, and offer the most rapid and cost-effective solutions to reducing emissions,” he said.

“There are a range of measures, within our reach right now, which could significantly advance Australia’s efforts in reducing emissions. These include: tax incentives for green buildings; a national white certificate scheme; higher energy performance standards in the Building Code; public funding of building retrofits; and enhanced Minimum Energy Performance standards.”

Mr Maher said ASBEC was now working together with its members to produce an emissions reduction roadmap to 2050.

“With a global agreement now in place, the building sector stands ready to deliver on the ambition for a more sustainable, resilient, prosperous and equitable future,” Mr Maher added.

The Property Council of Australia said that it expected the property industry to play a “significant” role in achieving Australia’s current 26-28 per cent emissions reduction target to 2020.

“Australia and New Zealand have ranked first for the last five yeas running in the leading international sustainability survey for the built environment (GRESB),” PCA chief executive Ken Morrision said.

“But action to improve sustainability and reduce emissions across the board will inevitably need to go deeper and broader, as it will across the economy.

“For this we will need targeted government policies above and beyond the current settings.”

Mr Morrison said the government should amend the Emissions Reduction Fund policy to include the property industry, saying that this would “allow the property industry to play a bigger role in helping [government] achieve its targets”.

He added that as Australia’s commercial buildings account for approximately 9.4 per cent of national emissions and 7.2 per cent of energy consumption, amending the ERF to: lower the minimum threshold to bid; allow upfront funding to occur; increase contract duration beyond seven years; and support normalisation methods with other state government programs, would allow the property industry to participate in the program.

Federal government should “put commitments into practice” or “get out of the way”

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore said the agreement was “truly historic” and that the move to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius was a “breakthrough”.

However, she said it was “now time for our federal government to put its commitments into practice and work with the cities, states, communities and businesses that are getting on with the job – or at least get out of the way”.

“The biggest challenge remains moving fast enough so that emissions have peaked by the time the agreement comes into force in 2020,” Ms Moore said.

She highlighted the work of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and Stockholm Environment Institute, which shows that a third of the remaining “safe” carbon budget will be determined by the decisions of cities.

“We’re already seeing the positive effects of our commitment to tackling climate change, and through this new agreement will continue to see another wave of innovation and investment,” she said.

The role of energy

The future of energy generation and productivity in Australia was touted by industry as being another area that could see dramatic carbon reductions, with 2xEP – an association that aims to double Australia’s energy productivity by 2030 – highlighting the importance of the Council of Australian Governments’ Energy Council’s new National Energy Productivity Plan 2015-2030, which was released during COP21.

The 2xEP Steering Committee said it was looking to government to “rapidly implement elements of the plan that fall to them” and to “adequately resource the plan and facilitate the rapid improvement in energy productivity that is necessary and possible”.

The role of energy consumption was also highlighted by the Clean Energy Council as being key to future work, with chief executive Kane Thornton saying that the Paris deal will “accelerate a change that is already happening – a shift towards a zero-carbon energy sector in the decades ahead”.

He said: “Renewable energy is an undeniable part of the international action to address climate change…

“Australia is blessed with some of the best renewable energy resources in the world, and we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create the jobs of the 21st Century.”

Mr Thornton highlighted that almost three quarters of Australia’s coal-fired power stations were either at, or beyond, their expected retirement date and said it was “time we retired some of these old clunkers and get serious about modernising our energy system”.

Touching on the federal government’s move to include wind power in the new investment mandate of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, Mr Thornton said: “It is great to see that common sense has prevailed. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is clearly committed to restoring confidence to renewable energy after several tough years.

“The CEFC will play an important role in unlocking innovative finance solutions for the renewable energy industry and delivering on the pledges made at the UN climate negotiations in Paris. In the short term it will help to return stability to a sector which has endured a tough couple of years.

“The renewable energy industry is an agile and innovative one, and we look forward to working with the Australian Government to maximise the opportunities available from renewable energy.”

Financing green initiatives

The Climate Bonds Initiative also highlighted that unlocking “innovative finance solutions”, such as green bonds, was needed to bring about a low-carbon economy.

Chief executive Sean Kidney said: “This agreement, with its INDC country-based plans, will boost climate finance and investment models and new timescales that accelerate climate resilient, innovative, low-carbon developments across clean energy, efficiency transport, water, urban landscapes and other key sectors.

“Enormous opportunity now clearly exists to deploy green bond and climate bond financing, to renew ageing infrastructure, and to provide climate finance for emerging markets and economies that require new energy, transport and urban networks over coming decades.”

The Climate Institute has also been outlining its wishes for the future, calling on the Australia Government to take four “immediate” steps to “maintain international credibility and take effective climate action”. These are:

  • improving initial post-2020 pollution reduction targets and commiting to net zero emissions before 2050
  • expanding domestic policies and, in particular, having a plan to replace existing coal fired power plants
  • increasing “climate finance” investment to assist vulnerable countries and
  • cancelling its “Kyoto carry over” of surplus carbon credits

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