Will compliance help us meet Net Zero?

After years of talk, 195 countries have sealed the deal on the Paris Agreement on climate change, and have promised to keep global warming to well below two degrees Celsius. But as we continue to smash global heat records, NDY global director of sustainability Tony Arnel writes that this agreement is just the first step on a very long road.

Australia already risks signing a treaty with which we cannot comply. Our nation has the highest per capita emissions of any country in the OECD, and emissions are on the rise for the first time in a decade.

The Turnbull Government has set a modest target to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 per cent by 2030, relative to 2005 levels. However, as a signatory to the Paris Agreement, we have committed to reduce global emissions to net zero, with reviews of our target starting in 2020 and taking place every five years thereafter.

So, how do we keep the promises we have made to the global community and to the planet?

It’s been said many times before, but I’ll say it again: the built environment can make one of the largest contributions to emissions reductions – and we can do it at the least cost, with technologies that are available today.

This is why a new project, led by the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council with support from ClimateWorks, aims to drive improvements to the National Construction Code. The Code can be an essential tool to influence emissions reduction, both at the design and construction phases of development, and during major refurbishments.

With the last increase to energy performance requirements in the Code made in 2010, we are presented with a window of opportunity to pursue an upgrade of these minimum standards at the scheduled 2019 Code update.

But this window won’t be open forever, and we must take steps now to avoid locking-in poorly-performing buildings in the future.

ASBEC has developed an issues paper to set out how the National Construction Code currently operates and to identify potential improvements. This issues paper lays the foundation for discussions currently taking place across the industry, and outlines four possible options for improvement.

The first is to establish a clear trajectory for future upgrades to end uncertainty and reduce the regulatory burden on industry. We are looking for industry feedback on how this might be established, as well as the metrics, processes and policy shifts needed to make this happen.

Revisions to the Code’s compliance mechanisms to achieve standardised approaches is equally important. For example, there is currently no common methodology for the ‘modelled performance solutions’ compliance mechanism. But should there be? This is something we want industry to consider.

How we increase the stringency of energy performance requirements in the short term – for both residential and commercial buildings – is also up for debate. Should we be pushing for minimum standards to be elevated in 2019? Or is there a different approach we can take?

And finally, we are exploring other ‘out of the box’ improvements to the code. Should air-leakage testing post-construction be mandatory? Should we be using smartphone technology and cloud computing to make code compliance easier?

We are determined to kick-start an industry-led vision to improve the energy performance requirements of both residential and commercial buildings in Australia.

We have an opportunity to push for greater certainty, to create pathways that foster innovation and collaboration, and to develop a code that supports rapidly improving energy technology and world-leading design approaches.

This project will take time – up to two years – so we don’t expect to uncover all the answers immediately.

But we must seize the opportunity to start a conversation around this issue, to seek out new solutions, and to ensure buildings play their rightful role in a low-carbon future.

To have your say, download the Building Energy Performance Standards Project issues paper.

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