Climate change policy is back at the centre of political debate after a devastating summer bushfire season. While the politics plays out, Australia’s property industry is already focused on a low-emissions future.
Addressing the National Press Club in Canberra recently, Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke about technology’s role in making a meaningful impact on global emissions reductions.
“Making it scalable, making it commercial, making it achievable,” the PM said.
The answer, Morrison argued, is not more taxes and increased global bureaucracy, but practical change, driven by science and technology.
The politics of climate change continues to trump the policy response on an issue that the property industry has been taking seriously for many years. However if it is a practical plan for emissions reduction the Government is seeking, part of that opportunity has been hiding in plain sight in our cities and towns, where Australians live and work every day.
Australia’s built environment – all of our existing housing, commercial and government buildings, plus those under construction – accounts for nearly one quarter of our current emissions, and half of all electricity consumption.
“The built environment will need to be a big part of the transition to a low carbon future,” says Ken Morrison, the Property Council’s chief executive.
“Energy efficiency in the built environment represents some of the lowest cost abatement opportunities available in the economy, so it should be a natural focus for policy makers.
“But the myriad of stakeholders involved, the split incentives that can exist between occupant and owner or developer and purchaser, and the need to shift the dial for existing building stock as well as new means that it’s more complicated that it looks.
“That’s why governments need a focused on the practical ways to reduce emissions e good news is there are abundant practical, scalable and commercial solutions already available in the property industry.
“Our industry is already delivering these solutions and is well placed to lead the way on further emissions reductions with the right policy settings and incentives in place,” Morrison adds.
Every building counts
The Property Council and Green Building Council of Australia have set out a practical pathway for a low-carbon, high-performance built environment that cuts emissions and energy costs in the Every Building Counts policy blueprint.
This contains 75 recommendations for federal, state and territory and local governments, that promise to transform our built environment and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
The recommendations cover residential, commercial and public buildings and encourage every stakeholder group –from the most sophisticated institutional investor to the average home owner - to take action.
Morrison says the plan is based on Australian and international experience and draws on Australia’s global recognition as a leader in built environment sustainability.
“We need to talk more about our strengths in sustainability, such as the fact that Australian companies routinely top the global benchmarks like Dow Jones and GRESB,” Morrison says.
On the road to net zero
These sentiments are shared by the Green Building Council’s chief executive officer, Davina Rooney.
“Our industry has been an enormous driver of change over many years. This sustained championing, partnering and advocacy has helped us to deliver better, more resilient, climate-ready buildings and communities,” Rooney explains.
“Australia has the largest cohort of companies decarbonising their portfolios by 2030 through the World Green Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment.
“These companies, many of them Property Council members, recognise that supply chain transformation is required to reach net zero.”
According to Rooney, Australian companies are taking action in response to investor and tenant demand.
The International Finance corporation has estimated that green buildings represent a $24.7 trillion opportunity by 2030. More than 800 global companies – including some of Australia’s largest office and retail tenants – use the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosure guidelines.
“More and more organisations are required to report on their ESG performance and climate-related risk, or to show how they are meeting their own carbon reduction goals – and these companies occupy buildings,” Rooney says.
While Australia’s property industry has made significant progress on the low-carbon journey since the GBCA was established in 2002, Morrison says “there’s still much more work to be done”.
“There is still huge untapped potential in our built environment to lower costs, improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions,” Morrison says.
“We have a proven track record. Industry has demonstrated it can get the job done. The invitation is there for governments to step up to the plate with the right policy settings to keep building the momentum,” Morrison concludes.