If you were setting out on a journey, you’d expect to know a few things before you left: your destination, your mode of transport, the best road to take, milestones you might see along the way, and the things you’ll need to get there: fuel, snacks, coffee.
Australia, like the rest of the world, is setting off on a one way journey to a climate altered world. With 2016 the hottest year on record and the current spate of heatwaves, we can already feel the heat on our faces as we head down the highway.
To some extent, our road to this future state is decided as well. As signatories to the Paris Climate Agreement, we know that our destination of net zero carbon emissions must be reached by 2050.
Fortunately for us, we’ve got the equivalent of a satnav telling us some of the key turns we need to take if we’re going to travel by the least painful route, avoiding unnecessary expense and social issues.
One of the most important milestones on this journey is our built environment. With buildings emitting 23 per cent of all Australia’s emissions, we know that improving the energy efficiency of our built environment provides one of the quickest, cheapest ways to lower our emissions quickly.
We’re already spending money on this trip. Energy costs peak in summer as people in our inefficient buildings crank up the air conditioning. In fact, summer peak demand equates to roughly one quarter of the country’s retail electricity costs. But if we make the right choices now, we could bring this cost down over the long term.
A key step is to improve the energy performance of our buildings, and to do that we urgently need to improve the standards that are required of them.
The National Construction Code sets out the minimum standards for building construction. Every new house, retail unit, or office in Australia must comply with these standards. The trouble is, they haven’t been improved in a long time, and in that time the world of sustainable building has moved on. Right now, as shown in ASBEC’s Low Carbon, High Performance report, we have the technology to build affordable zero carbon buildings, and several excellent examples are already up and running. But the National Construction Code is a far cry from best practice for new buildings.
While mandatory energy performance requirements were introduced into the code for residential buildings in 2003, for multi residential units like apartment blocks in 2005 and commercial buildings in 2006, there hasn’t been much in the way of upgrades since then. The codes for all three building types were last improved in 2010. This is despite massive advances in technology and reductions in the cost for sustainability features like renewable energy generation and insulation. ASBEC strongly believes that if we’re going to improve our built environment’s energy performance in time, we need to upgrade the National Construction Code as soon as possible.
With updates now taking place every three years, the next one is not due until 2019 and it is likely this will only look at commercial buildings. For residential buildings – the ones in which we all eat, sleep and watch Netflix on those hot, hot days, it’s likely to be 2022 before the energy performance standards are improved.
Of course, upgrading the code doesn’t translate to an immediate improvement in our buildings. If we include the time for the buildings incorporating the new standards to actually be built, we’re looking at a delay of a decade before our stock of homes, shops and offices materially improves.
In terms of our road trip toward a climate resilient Australia, it’s like we’ve stopped at a roadside burger joint…for a week!
If we’re going to get moving again, we urgently need to ratchet up the minimum energy performance in the National Construction Code over time. That’s why ASBEC has partnered with ClimateWorks to run an industry-led project to do just that.
The Building Code Energy Efficiency Trajectory Project will outline increases in the NCC energy provisions and show the way towards optimal long term goals for all building types. This will support governments to adopt the policies we need, while sending a strong regulatory signal to provide the certainty needed by industry. An agreed trajectory will support market development of technologies and services to reduce energy use and emissions across the building sector.
If we can get set a clear pathway for increasingly improved energy performance standards in the National Construction Code, we’ll be able to cut our emissions fast. That in turn means we’ll be much more sure of meeting our Paris Climate Agreement obligations whilst providing the broader health, well-being and productivity benefits that high performance buildings have been proven to deliver.
In short, we’ll be heading straight down the path toward a comfortable, affordable and climate resilient Australia.