As we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, climate change policy is poised to become a “top tier” election issue says the Property Council’s Francesca Muskovic. What does this mean for the built environment?
Muskovic, the Property Council’s national policy manager for sustainability and regulatory affairs, says we are likely to be within twelve months of a federal election. This political build up occurs against the backdrop of November’s climate change discussions at COP26 in Glasgow.
“The Biden presidency already appears to be influencing Australia’s thinking about long-term emissions reduction commitments and the strategy we will take to COP26,” Muskovic says.
President Biden has committed to reach net zero by 2050, and for the power sector to achieve that milestone by 2035. The COVID-19 stimulus bill prioritises projects that enhance efficiency of government buildings and provide incentives to make homes more comfortable and resilient to extreme weather, Muskovic says.
Biden is also hosting an international climate summit on Earth Day on 22 April, intended to keep the pressure on countries in the lead up to COP26, and this “presents a near-term opportunity for Australia to signal our ambition”.
“The Prime Minister has stated he’d like to get to net zero emissions ‘as soon as possible, preferably by 2050’, while reinforcing the government’s approach to emissions reduction through technology.”
In addition to moving towards net zero by 2050 – a target which is backed by almost every major business group in the country – “the Prime Minister will be looking for opportunities to demonstrate leadership.”
“Overseas diplomatic pressure could morph into tangible disadvantages with time, whether that’s carbon border adjustments or trade restrictions,” Muskovic says.
“There is still plenty of opportunity to create jobs through energy efficiency and climate resilience building upgrades in Australia.”
Muskovic points to Building efficiency for jobs and growth, a report released by the Property Council, Green Building Council of Australia, Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council and Energy Efficiency Council in 2020. This finds investment in high quality building and infrastructure could create more than 90,000 job years of employment.
Australia also has a powerful “success story” it can share on an international stage, Muskovic adds. “The government can point to the Australian property industry, which has been in the first rank of global leadership for well over a decade.”
Australia’s property industry has topped the GRESB table for 10 years running, and “world class” government-led programs like NABERS are now exported to the rest of the world. “Most of the Property Council’s largest members are committed to net zero emissions by or before 2030 and are investing to get there earlier,” she says.
Our biggest challenge is to “drive action at scale” across the breadth and diversity of the built environment. This requires a suite of policies: ‘carrots’ to drive upgrades of the existing building stock, ‘sticks’ for underperformance through the National Construction Code and appliances standards, and ‘tambourines’ like energy ratings and a disclosure scheme for homes.
“While the rest of Australia has been arguing about solar and wind versus coal, the property industry has been getting on with the job of defining in great detail the policies needed to achieve net zero emissions buildings by 2050,” Muskovic says.
The Trajectory for Low Energy Buildings, which all COAG ministers endorsed in 2019, combined with industry-led roadmaps like Every Building Counts provide a “comprehensive plan” for the built environment.
“We’ve already done much of the hard work to define the plan for buildings, all that remains is for the Australian Government to seize the opportunity and work with industry to implement it.”
The Property Council’s pre-budget submission calls for the Australian Government to establish a national plan for net zero emissions buildings by 2050 and introduce key policies, including a single energy rating system for homes. Download the pre-budget submission.