We have the blueprint for liveable, low-carbon cities. We just need to use it



Increasing heat in Sydney and other Australian cities highlights the urgent need to apply our knowledge of how to create liveable low-carbon cities.
Taras Vyshnya/Shutterstock

Deo Prasad, UNSW

Over the past seven years more than 100 research projects at the Co-operative Research Centre for Low Carbon Living, in collaboration with industry across Australia, have pondered a very big question: How do we build future cities that are sustainable, liveable and affordable?

This is exactly what Australians want, as the recent Greater Sydney Commission report, The Pulse of Greater Sydney, revealed. People want cities in which they live close to jobs and have reasonable commuting times. They want access to parks and green space, and relief from ever-increasing urban heat.




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The good news is we already know what it will take to deliver on much of this wish list. Since 2012, I have headed the A$100 million Low Carbon Living CRC, which has brought together Australian businesses, industries, communities and many of our brightest researchers to work out how to steer change.

Our Cooling Sydney Strategy, for instance, is the result of years of research into how to combat urban heatwaves. The burden of this heat is unevenly spread across our cities.

For example, residents of Sydney’s western suburbs are exposed to many more days hotter than 35 degrees than Sydneysiders living in the CBD and the city’s north. Last summer that meant over a month’s worth of intense heat in the suburb of Penrith, including nine days in a row above 35°C.




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While the recent winter sun might feel welcome, the negative impacts of increasingly hot cities on our health, lifestyle and energy use greatly outweigh any winter comfort.

So what are the solutions?

Our researchers have already found how we can offset increasing heat. The strategies includes cool and permeable pavements, water features and evaporative cooling, shade structures, vertical gardens, street trees and other plants – even special heat refuge stations.

Keeping cool inside, without huge power bills, is possible too. During last summer’s heatwave, our pilot 10-star energy-efficient house in Perth remained a comfortable 24°C inside, without air conditioning, when it was over 40°C outside. The exceptional thermal performance of the house was down to its evidence-based design.

Josh Byrne explains how his house keeps temperatures comfortable year-round with low energy use and no net emissions.



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This work is just one part of our wider remit. Our UNSW-based centre is on track to deliver independently verified cuts of 10 megatonnes of carbon emissions generated by Australia’s built environment by 2020. By integrating renewable energy systems, smart technologies, low-carbon materials and people-centred design into buildings and urban precincts, we have developed a sustainable, liveable and affordable urban blueprint for Australia. A PwC study (yet to be released) estimated cumulative economic benefits totalling A$684 million by 2027.

To put this another way, we have identified and verified evidence-based pathways to cut emissions equivalent to taking some 2.1 million cars off the road.




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Some of the progress to date is not immediately obvious to the casual observer. Take an otherwise unremarkable stretch of road along the back way to Sydney Airport. Recently, a 30-metre section of concrete was installed, which looks more like an ad hoc road repair than an important scientific pilot study.

Bu 15 metres is paved with a new geopolymer concrete that slashes greenhouse gas emissions by 50%. The other 15 metres is conventional concrete, the most widely used man-made material on the planet. Concrete production, using cement as its binder, accounts for about 8% of all global emissions.

The geopolymer concrete developed through our research centre is a similarly high-performance product but its binder safely incorporates otherwise noxious industrial waste streams, such as fly ash from coal-fired power stations and slag from blast furnaces. Australia has stockpiled about 400 million tonnes of waste from coal-fired power generation and steelmaking.

In Alexandria, in collaboration with the City of Sydney, we are testing this low-carbon concrete as a road surface that could help clean up industrial waste while slashing emissions. Working with NSW Ports, we’ve also shaped it into low-carbon bollards to form a breakwater to protect the coastline at Port Kembla from extreme weather.

Waste from coal-fired power stations has been used to make low-carbon bollards to protect the coastline at Port Kembla.

We now have the know-how to do better

There are many such success stories, but with 150 CRC Low Carbon Living projects the list is too long to detail. What’s more important, as our funding period comes to an end and Australia loses its only innovation hub committed to lowering carbon in the built environment, is to note how we got to where we are today.

The federal government’s Co-operative Research Centre program fosters co-operation and collaboration on a grand scale. Industries, businesses, government organisations and communities with a stake in solving big, complex challenges partner with researchers from a wide range of academic fields. This structure brings together sectors and people whose paths might otherwise rarely cross.

The cross-fertilisation of ideas, expertise and skills delivers innovative solutions. Research worldwide has consistently shown that collaboration drives innovation, and that innovation drives economic growth. Our experience confirms that as we partnered with organisations such as Multiplex, AECOM, BlueScope Steel, Sydney Water, ISCA, CSIRO and the United Nations Environment Program.

Cities are complex, exciting beasts, but we have the knowledge and expertise to live better, more comfortable urban lives in Australia while reducing demand for energy, water and materials. That is, we have the blueprint for low-carbon urban living. We must now choose to use it.


This article has been updated to correct the number of CRC Low Carbon Living projects to 150 and the amount of stockpiled waste from coal-fired power generation and steelmaking to 400 million tonnes.The Conversation

Deo Prasad, Scientia Professor and CEO, Co-operative Research Centre for Low Carbon Living, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Waratah is an icon of the Aussie bush (and very nearly our national emblem)



Waratah flowers stand out vividly in the bush.
Tim J Keegan/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Jacob Krauss, UNSW

On one of my first field trips as a young student, searching in sweltering September heat for banksia trees in the bush around Sydney, my eye was caught by a flash of remarkable crimson. Trudging over the red dust, we saw the beautiful waratah flower.

The cone-shaped flower sat upon a green leaf throne, sepals facing upward towards the heavens. The sun lit the red petals just right, and I felt a sense of awe for the flower emblem of New South Wales.




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The rounded flower head and the green razored leaves are iconic. The long stem that can grow up to 4 metres tall allows it to stand above the other vegetation.

The waratah’s long stem lifts it high in the bush understory.
Margaret Donald/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

There are five species of waratah flowers, although the species chosen for NSW’s emblem, Telopea speciosissima, is simply known as the New South Wales waratah.

These grow across southeastern Australia along the central coast and up the mountains from the Gibraltar range north of Sydney to Conjola in the south.




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Robert Brown named the genus Telopea in 1810, which derives from the Greek word for “seen from afar” – just as I was able to spot the striking red flowers in the bush. (There is even a botanical journal named Teleopea, after the flower.)

This flower thrives in the shrub understory of open forest and survives despite sandstone soils and volcanic rock. Delicate, the flowers need lots of rainfall. There is also a rare white morph called “Wirrimbira white.” This form was found in the Robertson, NSW near the Kangaloon water catchment.

A beautiful white variation in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens.
Royal Botanic Garden Sydney/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Warratahs have a lignotuber in their root system that allows them to store energy and nutrients. They can regenerate within two years after a wildfire destroys the main flower.

It flowers from September to November, though flowering is highly variable and is sensitive to the environment. The flower is pollinated by birds that feed on its sweet nectar. The plant releases brown leathery pods with large, winged seeds, which germinate readily – making it a popular garden ornament.




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A lovely first alternate for national flower

The waratah flower is a cultural symbol, adorning Australiana ranging from stamps to the state flag of New South Wales. Because it was so common, it helped play a role in developing a colonial Australia’s cultural identity. In fact, it almost beat out the golden wattle as the national emblem back in the 1900s.

There was heated debate, but ultimately the waratah’s bias towards coastal habitat – which meant it was only found on the east coast of Australia and Tasmania – led to its loss. However, in 1962 the flower was proclaimed the official floral emblem of New South Wales.

The wonga pigeon is linked to the waratah in Indigenous Dreamtime stories.
Bernard DUPONT/Flickr, CC BY-SA

There is a rich aboriginal history regarding the flower as well. Gulpilil’s Stories of the Dreamtime tells a story explaining how the white warratah became red. In the story, a female wonga pigeon flew above the tree canopy looking for her lost mate. She was caught by a hawk but broke free, tearing her breast. She landed on a white warratah and her flowing blood stained it red. As she flew from flower to flower, the blood from the wounds drenched all the flowers red.




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If you stick your finger in the flower when it is in bloom you’ll see the “blood” of the pigeon on your finger. The red nectar is sweet, and a medicinal tonic can be made from the red blooms.

It also made a striking impression on European artists in the 18th and 19th centuries. The flower can be seen on collections ranging from vases to statues and stained-glass windows.

An inflatable light installation in Vivid Sydney.
Ashley/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

In 1915, Australian botanist R.T. Baker wrote, “The entire plant…lends itself to such a boldness of artistic ideas in all branches of Applied Art that it has few compeers amongst the representatives of the whole floral world.”




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I first spotted the flower on one of my first experiences in the bush near Sydney, hunting banksia for a professor who studies the unique fire ecology of Australian plants in Royal National Park. It is one of my favourite Australian flowers, made even more special by the memory when I first encountered it on that sunny, September day.


Do you love native plants? Sign up to The Conversation’s Beating Around the Bush Facebook group.The Conversation

Jacob Krauss, Graduate Student, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.