The Australian government has refused to commit to further action on building energy efficiency, merely ‘noting’ recommendations of a new report to expand requirements for energy performance of commercial and residential buildings.

Releasing its response to the final report by an expert panel set up to advise the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction on how to incentivise low cost abatement opportunities from across the economy, the Federal Government has agreed or agreed in principal to 21 of the 26 recommendations – most of the which relate to improvements to the Emissions Reduction Fund set up by the Abbott Government in 2014 to provide incentives for companies and individuals to adopt sustainable practices.

But it merely ‘noted’ key recommendations in respect of energy efficiency within the built environment.

These included recommendations to:

  • expand the National Australian Built Environment Rating Scheme (NABERS) and the Commercial Buildings Disclosure scheme to a broad range of commercial building types such as hotels.
  • develop an energy performance rating scheme for new and existing residential buildings based on the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme (NatHERS)
  • work with state and territory governments to introduce mandatory energy performance disclosure obligations for the residential sector which is linked to the aforementioned rating system; and
  • review the extent of skills shortages associated with abatement activities and whether there was a need to train more energy efficiency experts in building and industrial sectors.

In its response, the Government says it has addressed many of the issues in the recommendations through its Climate Solutions Package announced in February last year.

Along with other measures – such as a $2 billion to reduce greenhouse gasses through the existing Emissions Reduction Fund, support for pumped hydro schemes such as Snowy 2.0 and a  commitment to develop a national electric vehicle strategy – this included vaguely worded commitments to ‘help households and businesses improve energy efficiency bills’.

This, the strategy envisioned, would involve a commitment to improve NABERS and to consider expanding the Commercial Building Disclosure Program following a review of the program and to work with state governments to improve energy efficiency standards.

In its response to the King review, the government said it acting on these commitments.

On  NABERS, it has allocated $3.4 million over 2019/20 and 2020/21 to expand the rating program.

On the Commercial Building Disclosure Program, it says it is committed to ‘period reviews … which will consider the case for expanding the program.’”

On energy efficiency standards, it points to a 2019 agreement by the COAG Energy Council to adopt a long-term trajectory toward zero energy buildings through the mandatory energy efficiency improvements to be implemented via the National Construction Code.

Finally, in respect of mandatory energy performance disclosure obligations, the government said any legislation was a matter for states and territories but added that the COAG Energy Council had developed a national framework for home energy efficiency ratings.

Nevertheless, the Property Council of Australia expressed disappointment that the government did not go further.

Whilst the review reflected many of the measures which the Council had called for in its Every Building Counts policy framework released last year, it said the government’s refusal in its response to go further in respect of the recommendations was a ‘missed opportunity’.

In particular, the Council says the need for an energy performance rating for existing residential buildings.

Whilst the NatHERS scheme applies to the design of new homes, there is currently no rating scheme in Australia through which prospective home buyers or tenants can assess the likely energy performance of the property in question prior to making purchase or leasing decisions.

“It was pleasing to see the expert panel recognise the value of these initiatives (called for in the Property Council document referred to above), but the government’s response has missed the opportunity to commit to more meaningful action,’ Property Council of Australia chief executive officer Ken Morrison said.

“While it is good to see proposed changes to drive uptake of energy efficiency projects in the Emissions Reduction Fund, key barriers are likely to remain and these changes do not address some of the most challenging sectors to reduce emissions within, particularly established housing.”