Climate Change Commission advice on homes and buildings: ambitious enough?

03 February 2021

Photo by Torsten Dederichs on Unsplash

‘Now we must decide where our ambition lies,’ says the introduction to the keenly awaited advice to government from the Climate Change Commission, recently released.

Buildings and homes feature throughout the advice, which is good news for all of us who want a healthier, greener, less polluted Aotearoa. The recognition that our sector has the solutions and has a key role to play is good news too. Our buildings and homes can lead the way to a zero carbon New Zealand.

But does the ambition shown by the Climate Change Commission align with the ambition needed? Unfortunately not.

‘The time for accelerated climate action is now,’ the advice’s introduction concludes, while at the same time saying that by 2035 ‘newly built homes are 35% more energy efficient compared to today’s performance.’ A 35% improvement is achievable much sooner that 2035, perhaps even nearly a decade sooner, if backed with the proper ambition.

It’s a little disconcerting too to see that, when it comes to our homes and buildings, the ambition shown by the Climate Change Commission is much less than that outlined in the government’s Building for Climate Change programme, which says that ‘by 2035, New Zealand’s new buildings are using as little energy and water as possible’. ‘As little energy as possible’ is very different than 35% less energy. Folks – it seems like you two need to talk. We’d be happy to make the introductions.

Research from Australia has shown that Green Star certified buildings use 66% less energy than average buildings. This is happening right now in 2021. We shouldn’t be having to wait over a decade.

The Climate Change Commission’s advice is not final though, and is now open for consultation. We’ll be writing a detailed submission on the condition of the Commission’s ambition. We’ll share it with you in the next couple of weeks, so do keep an eye out and feel free to use it to craft your own submission.

Besides the issues above, we’ll be welcoming the advice to shift away from fossil fuel connections to our homes and buildings, and also the introduction of mandatory measures to improve energy efficiency, which was included in the raft of solutions laid out in our zero carbon roadmap. And we’ll be calling for a much greater focus on the significant challenges posed by embodied carbon, which is a key focus in the Building for Climate Change programme.

The transition towards a zero carbon Aotearoa needs to be fair and equitable. It has to improve the lives of all New Zealanders. The co-benefits of greener, healthier buildings will play a key role here.

As the advice says ‘Many of the actions Aotearoa could take to address climate change will have broader health co-benefits. New Zealanders will benefit from warmer drier homes, better air quality, and from more active local travel. This will reduce burden on the health system. These benefits will be immediate and add to the case for taking action to reduce emissions.’

Energy efficiency too will play a large part. Besides making our homes and buildings greener, energy efficiency is a jobs machine. And besides creating heaps of local jobs and lowering our carbon emissions, making our homes warmer would benefit New Zealand to the tune of billions of dollars.

It’s no wonder that there is a growing clamour for energy efficiency to be at the heart of a just transition to a zero carbon Aotearoa. As others have argued, ‘the best and most equitable way to address climate change is to push energy efficiency into every corner of our economy, particularly to those disadvantaged communities where households spend far too big a share of their income on energy bills.’

Working together, all of us have the solutions, the opportunity and the momentum to play a lead role in the shift to a healthier, greener Aotearoa. We can make our sector the carbon-busting hero our country needs.

To hear the very latest developments in this important shift to better buildings, and to meet hundreds of other key figures in the green building movement, do be sure to grab a ticket for the Green Property Summit coming up on 6 May. Tickets are available now, until they sell out.