14 April 2014 Tackling the built environment, in buildings, urban planning and public transport investment, is a priority area for mitigating climate change and will deliver benefits in access to energy, air and water pollution, maintaining employment opportunities and competitiveness, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says in its most recent report. Cameron Jewell reports.

Population growth and increasing urbanisation means that cities and buildings are crucial to keeping global temperatures within a 2°C increase, the third and final Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report has found.

The report, Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change, found that it was not too late, using a range of technological measures and behaviour change strategies, to limit the global temperature increase to 2°C. However, this would necessitate serious technological and – more pressingly – institutional change.

“There is a clear message from science: to avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual,” report co-chair Ottmar Edenhofer said.

“Many different pathways lead to a future within the boundaries set by the two degrees Celsius goal. All of these require substantial investments.”

Delaying the transition from fossil fuels would lead to increased climate disasters and severe economic damage, the report found.

“Avoiding further delays in mitigation and making use of a broad variety of technologies can limit the associated costs,” Mr Edenhofer said.

Building sector key is key

The built environment, was an important battleground for climate mitigation, as was the electricity generation sector, with most scenarios requiring cutting emissions from electricity production to near zero, as well as energy efficiency measures.

Urban areas would house close to 70 per cent of the world’s population by 2050, the report summary for policymakers said, and urban land cover was projected to expand by 56-310 per cent between 2000 and 2030, so the built environment was therefore a prime target for climate change mitigation strategies.

Higher densities needed

“Effective mitigation strategies involve packages of mutually reinforcing policies, including co-locating high residential with high employment densities, achieving high diversity and integration of land uses, increasing accessibility and investing in public transport and other demand management measures,” the summary said.

While many cities were acting to tackle climate change, there was uncertainty over the aggregate impact on carbon emissions.

“Current climate action plans focus largely on energy efficiency,” the summary stated.

“Fewer climate action plans consider land-use planning strategies and cross-sectoral measures to reduce sprawl and promote transit-oriented development.”

Tackling climate change on the urban scale had numerous co-benefits, the summary stated, including providing access to energy, limiting air and water pollution, and maintaining employment opportunities and competitiveness.

 ABSA says sustainability pays all round dividends

The Association of Building Sustainability Assessors said the findings highlighted the importance the building industry had in mitigating climate change.

“Too often sustainability is understood as something that adds expense to construction and comes at the cost of economic activity, of productivity, of jobs, of what’s good for working Australian families,” ABSA chair Sid Thoo said.

“But we now know that sustainable buildings are not just good for the people who live and work in them, they’re also great for communities, and they will be a major part of how we must respond globally to the challenge of climate change.”

According to the report, buildings were responsible for 34 per cent of energy use, though with energy demand projected to double by 2050, carbon emissions could increase by 50-150 per cent.

“Much of the building sector is in denial about this and we’re still seeing the construction of energy-sucking homes that are locking families into a future of ever-skyrocketing electricity prices,” Mr Thoo said.

“We know how to design sustainable buildings. We have the technology, the knowledge and the experience. We know what we can do in order to improve the environmental performance of buildings and to minimise the impact on the environment.”

Retrofitting existing buildings and implementing low energy building codes for new developments could reduce heating and cooling energy use by 50-90 per cent, the IPCC report found.

“The industry must respond by building the cities of the future, including sustainable homes that don’t lock families into runaway energy costs,” Mr Thoo said.

“Smaller, higher density but more liveable dwellings located within walking distance to vibrant activity centres and high frequency public transport networks will be a key part of making our cities more sustainable.”

Climate Institute

The Climate Institute said the federal government and the opposition should reaffirm their commitment to the international goal of avoiding 2°C warming and national carbon pollution reductions to help with this goal.

“This report tests the Government’s and the ALP’s resolve to implement national carbon pollution targets consistent with helping to avoid internationally agreed dangerous levels of global warming,” Climate Institute chief executive John Connor said.

The independent Climate Change Authority, chaired by former Reserve Bank Governor Bernie Fraser, with Board members including former head of the Australian Industry Group Heather Ridout and Australia’s Chief Scientist Ian Chubb, recommended 19 per cent reductions of Australia’s 2000 carbon pollution levels by 2020 and 40-60 per cent reductions by 2030, Mr Connor said.

“This report from the world’s top climate change economists, and signed off by governments including Australia, is crystal clear: effective, sustained and ambitious policies are needed to boost renewable energy, energy efficiency and technologies that remove carbon pollution from the atmosphere. Economy-wide measures such as carbon pricing, regulations and policies that provide long-term certainty are key ingredients to effective national policies.

“Big carbon pollution reductions are possible by 2030 and if we don’t start today the costs of achieving these goals will increase significantly. Turning our coal, oil and gas based energy system to one based on clean energy sources like wind and solar, improving the energy efficiency of our buildings, industries and transport sector, stopping deforestation and developing carbon removal technologies are all essential ingredients to effective action.”

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  1. Australia has a national innovation hub for research, development and deployment that is charged with exactly capturing this opportunity – CRC for Low Carbon Living – enabling Australian industry and professions to compete globally in a low carbon world.
    It explores nextGen technologies, tools, techniques to transform the built environment to a lower carbon while providing the evidence base for innovative policies, planning and design.

  2. One aspect that is not tackeld by the IPCC is the growing disparity between countries with and without oil supplies. For example, Saudi Arabia with its huge oil reserves sells petrol locally at US$0.10 per litre, so there simply is no need to conserve or incentive to reduce consumption. with ever increasing local demand, some postulate that by 2030 there will be no oil to export. Imagine Saudi needing to import oil!
    Similarly, it is also unlikely that any real change will occur whilst we maintain the status quo and old ways of thinking, like
    1, maintainining planning regulations that prefer expansion rather than consolidation,
    2. Building codes that focus on individual buildings gaining efficiencies rather than on clusters with mandated zero inputs and outputs
    Further, designers and building owners should be made responsible for inefficiencies created, the long term costs, as these should not be transferred to unwary buyers or future owners.
    Just some thoughts.