Moving towards net zero

Moving towards net zero

When Australia, together with 176 other nations, signed the Paris Agreement in April, it was seen as a commitment to tackle global warming and move towards a ‘net zero’ economy by 2050.

As we work together to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, this pact sends an economic signal to the global marketplace.

But it also poses some significant challenges for Australia, which is currently one of the world’s highest per capita emitters.

Just last week, John Connor, CEO of the Climate Institute, said “low carbon is so 2015 – we must be thinking and talking zero carbon”.

Around a quarter of our emissions come from our buildings, but a new report, developed by the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council, finds we can eliminate these emissions entirely by 2050 – and in doing so, we can deliver healthier, more productive cities and save $20 billion using technologies that exist today.

The Low Carbon, High Performance report finds that improving the thermal efficiency of buildings and ‘fuel switching’ – moving from appliances that use gas, wood or other fuels to electrical alternatives – can cut our projected 2050 emissions by more than half.

Investment in distributed solar energy systems can help us eliminate the remaining emissions from buildings, resulting in a zero carbon built environment by 2050. 

Many of the property industry’s leaders are already taking action, with 50 per cent of ASX50 companies using the Green Star rating system to assess the design, construction and performance of their buildings and communities. 

Lendlease is working on carbon zero communities, such as Barangaroo South in Sydney. Stockland has reduced the emissions intensity of its office portfolio by 50 per cent over the last decade. Mirvac has slashed its energy bills by $29 million since 2009, and Frasers Property Australia has 1.3 million sqm of Green Star-certified space. This is real leadership.

Australia consistently tops international tables for green building leadership, and we have more than 1,060 Green Star-rated buildings around the country. 

However, while the industry leaders have shown that step change is possible, a large slice of the market (mid-tier) is lagging behind. Energy productivity has improved by just two per cent across the board in the commercial sector, and by five per cent in the residential sector.

The task is urgent. The Low Carbon, High Performance report finds just five years of delay could lead to more than 170 megatonnes of lost emission-reduction opportunities, and $24 billion in wasted energy expenditure. This is the equivalent emissions to almost 36 million passenger vehicles driven for a year, or the electricity required to power 23 million homes.

If we continue with business-as-usual energy use, Australia will expend its carbon budget in 13 years. If we implement the recommendations from the ASBEC report, we can extend that carbon budget to 19 years. 

The message to property investors is clear. A zero carbon economy is coming whether you like it or not. Investing in inefficient buildings now may leave you with stranded assets in the future.

 

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