Reducing emissions is not going to be enough

With the failure of COP25 in Madrid to reach consensus on a framework to reduce emissions, there is a growing sense of despair and frustration with the ability of governments to act in the planet’s best interest. Even though Australia is suffering from unprecedented  fires that are clearly closely linked to climate change, the federal government continues to resist any meaningful action. However, even if the Paris commitments are fully implemented they will not be enough to keep temperature increases to below 2 degC, let alone 1.5. Comparison between climate models and observed data show that the low impact scenarios can be ditched as being not credible and many indicators are tracking worse case scenarios or even worse. The accelerating melt of the Greenland and West Antarctica ice sheets have caused alarm as has the increasing evidence of methane releases as the permafrost melts. Closer to home the temperature increases over the last few summers are showing extreme heat day frequency going through the roof.  Penrith’s historical average is 17 days a year above 35degC, the last three years have averaged well over 40; by the end of the century that figure is likely to be over 90.

The enormous lag in Earth’s energy system will ensure that impacts will continue to grow even if, miraculously human society manage to achieve zero emissions over the next 10 years. Importantly, we also need to start mitigating and adapting. Mitigation would take the form of increasing albedo (reflection of the sun’s radiation) , especially of our built form; increase the permeability of surfaces to allow water to be absorbed rather than simply run off in to storm water amongst other measures. Perhaps even more importantly we need to ensure that mangroves and wetlands, (great absorbers of carbon), are repaired, protected and restored; increase tree planting to not only absorb carbon but also help retain moisture in the soil. We also need a plan to tackle the increased risk of desertification and to replace and improve soil, one resource that Australia is sadly lacking. Diverting food and all organic waste from landfill would help in the later and remove them as a source of methane. Maybe these are initiatives that a federal government could embrace without provoking a hysterical reaction from their reactionary climate change denying right wing.

Governments with different agendas

While the Federal Government has shown itself to be hesitant about embracing action on Climate Change, State Governments around Australia are becoming much more proactive. This new found enthusiasm has perhaps been encouraged more by large corporations and the Paris Climate Change Accord, rather than by an environmental conscience, but whatever the driver, the result has been much more ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions. In NSW, the BASIX targets will be made more stringent, with the energy reduction component increasing to 50%

In NSW, the BASIX targets will be made more stringent on July 1st, with the energy reduction increasing to 50% from 40% and thermal performance caps lowered across the board. While this has been in the pipeline since before 2012 and only brings NSW more in line with the rest of Australia, what is more encouraging, is the aspirational targets of net zero carbon emissions for buildings by 2050 and an ongoing pathway to reach that point.  Consistency and predictability is one element that businesses request from Governments so that they can plan with certainty. This has been sadly lacking, especially at a Federal level, from both sides of the political spectrum. This will have significant implications for design and especially for windows. Windows are the weakest element in the current building stock in NSW and it seems inevitable that double glazing will eventually become the default window type, as it has become in the southern states.

This increasing stringency will have significant implications for design and especially for windows. Windows are the weakest element in the current building stock in NSW and it seems inevitable that double glazing will eventually become the default window type, as it has become in the southern states. Another initiative is the proposed energy efficiency disclosure for existing rental and sale, similar to the ACT and the NABERS scheme for commercial properties. Mooted as a voluntary scheme to be introduced in 2018 and if successful mandatory by 2020.

Another initiative is a proposed energy efficiency disclosure for existing residential dwellings for rent and sale; this is similar to the ACT and the NABERS scheme for commercial properties and is common in the Northern Hemisphere. Mooted as a voluntary scheme to be introduced in 2018 and if successful mandatory by 2020.