Greenwashing the property market: why ‘green star’ ratings don’t guarantee more sustainable buildings


Igor Martek, Deakin University and M. Reza Hosseini, Deakin University

Nothing uses more resources or produces more waste than the buildings we live and work in. Our built environment is responsible for half of all global energy use and half of all greenhouse gas emissions. Buildings consume one-sixth of all freshwater, one-quarter of world wood harvests and four-tenths of all other raw materials. The construction and later demolition of buildings produces 40% of all waste.

The sustainability of our buildings is coming under scrutiny, and “green” rating tools are the key method for measuring this. Deakin University’s School of Architecture and Built Environment recently reviewed these certification schemes. Focus group discussions were held in Sydney and Melbourne with representatives in the field of sustainability – including government, green consultancies and rating tool providers.

Two main concerns emerged from our review:

  1. Sustainability ratings tools are not audited. Most ratings tools are predictive, while those few that take measurements use paid third parties. Government plays no active part.

  2. The sustainability parameters measured only loosely intersect with the building occupants’ sustainability concerns. Considerations such as access to transport and amenities are not included.

Focus group sessions run by Deakin University helped identify problems with current sustainability ratings.
Author provided



Read more:
Construction industry loophole leaves home buyers facing higher energy bills


That’s the backdrop to the sustainability targets now being adopted across Australia. Australia has the highest rate of population growth of any developed country. The population now is 24.8 million. It is expected to reach between 30.9 and 42.5 million people by 2056.

More buildings will be needed for these people to live and work in. And we will have to find ways to ensure these buildings are more sustainable if the targets now being adopted are to be achieved.

Over 80% of local governments have zero-emissions targets. Sydney and Canberra have committed to zero-carbon emissions by 2050. Melbourne has pledged to be carbon-neutral by 2020.

So how do green ratings work?

Each green rating tool works by identifying a range of sustainability parameters – such as water and energy use, waste production, etc. The list of things to be measured runs into the dozens. Tools differ on the parameters measured, method of measurement, weightings given and the thresholds that determine a given sustainability rating.

There are over 600 such rating tools worldwide. Each competes in the marketplace by looking to reconcile the credibility of its ratings with the disinclination of developers to submit to an assessment that will rate them poorly. Rating tools found in Australia include Green Star, NABERS, NatHERS, Circles of Sustainability, EnviroDevelopment, Living Community Challenge and One Planet Communities.

So, it is easy enough to find landmark developments labelled with green accreditations. It is harder to quantify what these actually mean.




Read more:
Green building revolution? Only in high-end new CBD offices


Ratings must be independently audited

Government practice, historically, has been to assure building quality through permits. Planning permits ensure a development conforms with city schemes. Building permits assess structural load-bearing capacity, health and fire safety.

All this is done off the plan. Site inspections take place to verify that the building is built to plan. But once a certificate of occupancy is issued, the government steps aside.

The sustainability agenda promoted by government has been grafted onto this regime. Energy efficiency was introduced into the residential building code in 2005, and then into the commercial building code in 2006. At first, this was limited to new buildings, but then broadened to include refurbishment of existing structures.

Again, sustainability credentials are assessed off the plan and certification issued once the building is up and running. Thereafter, government walks away.

We know of only one longitudinal energy performance study carried out on domestic residences in Australia. It is an as-yet-unpublished project conducted by a retiree from the CSIRO, working with Indigenous communities in Far North Queensland.

The findings corroborate a recent study by Gertrud Hatvani-Kovacs and colleagues from the University of South Australia. This study found that so-called “energy-inefficient” houses, following traditional design, managed under certain conditions to outperform 6- and 8-star buildings.

Sustainability tools must measure what matters

Energy usage is but the tip of the iceberg. Genuine sustainability is about delivering our children into a future in which they have all that we have today.

Home owners, on average, turn their property around every eight years. They are less concerned with energy efficiency than with real estate prices. And these prices depend on the appeal of the property, which involves access to transport, schools, parks and amenities, and freedom from crime.

Commercial property owners, too, are concerned about infrastructure, and they care about creating work environments that retain valued employees.

These are all core sustainability issues, yet do not come up in the rating systems we use.

The ConversationIf government is serious about creating sustainable cities, it needs to let go of its limited, narrow criteria and embrace these larger concerns of “liveability”. It must embody these broader criteria in the rating systems it uses to endorse developments. And it needs an auditing and enforcement regime in place to make it happen.

Igor Martek, Lecturer In Construction, Deakin University and M. Reza Hosseini, Lecturer in Construction, Deakin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Advertisements

Rising dragon: China’s carbon market exposes Australia’s energy paralysis


Peter Christoff, University of Melbourne

When China’s national carbon market is launched later this year it will be the world’s second-largest carbon market, after the European emissions trading scheme (ETS), which it will eventually overtake.

In sharp contrast, the absence of an explicit carbon price in Australia and persistent turbulence and confusion around domestic energy policy are hindering investment in renewable energy, leaving Australia lagging behind global trends in cutting emissions.

China will add to the cluster of national and sub-national emissions trading schemes that now exist in the European Union, Canada, the United States, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

As the World Bank Group’s 2016 report on the state and trends in carbon pricing indicated, up to a quarter of global emissions will then be covered by carbon pricing initiatives across some 40 national jurisdictions and 20 cities, states and regions. The evolution of regional carbon markets fostered by the Paris Agreement, in North Asia and elsewhere, will economically advantage those able to participate.



Copyright 2012 International Carbon Action Partnership – used with permission

For a brief time Australia flirted with being a global leader in carbon pricing and emissions trading. The Keating Labor Government debated – and rejected – a national carbon price in 1995. In 2009 the Rudd Labor government proposed laws to establish a national emissions trading scheme, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, which then failed in the Senate.


Read more: Obituary: Australia’s carbon price


Instead, Australia became the first country in the world to dismantle a national carbon price, when Tony Abbott axed Gillard Labor’s carbon tax. Now Australia is in danger of becoming an outlier globally – and this will have significant economic costs as well as environmental implications.

China’s climate leadership

When China became the world’s largest national greenhouse gas emitter in 2006, its involvement in any effective global emissions reduction agreement became an unavoidable responsibility.

China first acknowledged this internationally in 2009 when, at the climate negotiations in Copenhagen, it announced voluntary measures to improve national energy efficiency, pledging to cut its carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2020.

In 2014, China and the United States jointly announced their national targets and goals as a means of providing momentum for the following year’s Paris summit. China committed to an energy intensity target for 2030, lowering carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 60-65% below 2005 levels, and also to peak its emissions before 2030.


Read more: China and the US step up on climate


Indeed it appears already to have achieved this goal as a result of industrial modernisation and slowing economic growth, along with a push to reduce its reliance on coal and its global leadership in building renewable energy capacity (specifically, solar and wind).

Then, a decade after the launch of the European ETS, during a second joint announcement with the United States in September 2015, President Xi Jinping declared that China would establish a national carbon market by 2017.

China’s national ETS

Seven pilot emissions trading schemes have operated in China since 2013. These subnational projects – in five cities and two provinces, including Beijing, Chonqing, Guandong, Hubei, Shanghai, Shenzen and Tianjin – together already cover some 26.7% of China’s GDP in 2014.

They have employed slightly different market designs, varying the range of greenhouse gases and industry sectors covered, slightly different approaches to permit allocation, verification and compliance, and produced seven different carbon prices, at times ranging from some A$2.50 to up to A$22 per tonne.

The new national market represents a further step in the process of policy learning and systematic development, based on these experimental steps as well as the experience of the European ETS, which has evolved in several phases since 2005.

During its trial phase, from 2017 to 2019, policy makers will work to help new participants become familiar with the new national market and to improve its design. The market initially will be restricted in scope and size. It first will only include carbon dioxide and, like its pilots, its initial carbon price likely will be modest.

Guidelines from the National Development and Reform Commission indicate it will cover eight major industry sectors, such as power generation, petrochemicals, construction materials, pulp and paper, aviation, and iron, steel and aluminium production.

Nevertheless it is expected to cover some 40-50% of total Chinese emissions and eventually become a significant contributor to the suite of measures now being used to tackle Chinese emissions. Full implementation is expected to occur from 2020 onwards – with greater industry coverage, an increased percentage of allowances allocated by auction, and improved benchmarking.

A new measure among many

The new national carbon market is an additional response to the pressures that have driven Chinese climate and energy policy reforms over the past decade.

Domestically, a complex basket of tools are already in use to increase energy efficiency and reduce emissions. Coal-fired power generation has faced increasingly stringent regulation and new investment to counter dangerously high levels of air pollution in major cities, growing health problems and associated social unrest.


Read more: Want to see the business case for green energy? Just look at China


China’s heavy industries – economically sluggish, energy-inefficient and emissions-intensive – are under intensifying regulatory and now market pressure to modernise rapidly. While the carbon prices under the sub-national pilots have remained modest, they have added to this pressure for technological and economic reform.

National energy security is a strategic concern given China’s economic reliance on energy imports. The threats from global warming to China’s food and water security are recognised as concerns at the highest levels of government, including through the 13th Five-Year Plan.

China’s climate and energy policies also offer China an opportunity to demonstrate global leadership in climate policy, with the election of US President Donald Trump creating new diplomatic possibilities, a point emphasised in President Xi Jinping’s opening speech to the 19th Communist Party Congress, where he noted that China had taken a “driving seat in international cooperation to respond to climate change”.

Implications for Australia

A successful Chinese national emissions scheme has a range of impacts for Australia.

About a quarter of Australia’s coal exports (by volume) currently go to China, which in 2016 was Australia’s second biggest market for thermal coal and third biggest market for metallurgical coal.

If a national carbon market accelerates improvements in energy efficiency in China’s metals and power generation sectors, its demand for Australian coal exports – already beginning to contract – is likely to fall faster.

Second, for a quarter of a century, a succession of conservative Australian Prime Ministers justified the absence of a meaningful Australian climate policy by claiming there was no point in reducing emissions here because China wasn’t doing enough to tackle the problem.

Based on misrepresentations of what was happening in China, the Howard government delayed and then the Abbott government destroyed an Australian carbon pricing mechanism. Both leaders consistently stalled Australian climate policy, and continued to spruik the mirage of a national energy future based on exporting coal to ever larger overseas markets, including in China.

The ConversationIn all, the turbulent unpredictability of Australia’s climate politics and policies stands in contrast to China’s steady institutional commitment to accelerating decarbonisation. Given its present weak climate policy settings and institutions, and without a clear target for renewables, Australia will struggle to meet its current emission reduction commitments and will face increased future costs for failing to act sooner.

Peter Christoff, Associate Professor, School of Geography, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Three charts on: the incredible shrinking renewable energy job market


Paul Burke, Australian National University

This is the first piece in our new Three Charts series, in which we aim to highlight interesting trends in three simple charts. The Conversation

Australia is embarking on a transition from an electricity system that relies largely on coal to one that may one day be 100% renewable. Last week’s closure of the Hazelwood coal-fired generator was an important milestone on this path.

The development of the renewables sector has not, however, been a smooth ride.

Estimates released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggest that the number of direct full-time equivalent jobs in renewable energy activities has continued to fall from its 2011-12 peak. Over a period in which the Australian economy saw around 600,000 additional people get jobs, employment in the renewables sector has been going backwards.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/7pTc0/2/

A small employer

The renewables sector is estimated to have directly provided only 11,150 full-time equivalent jobs in 2015-16. The Australian labour force exceeds 12.6 million people. The sector thus makes a small contribution to national employment, although one that is quite important in some local economies.

Around half of the jobs in renewables in 2015-16 were in installing (and maintaining) rooftop solar systems. Hydroelectricity generation provides 1,840 full-time equivalent jobs, a number that is likely to increase if pumped storage is to make a larger contribution to smoothing Australia’s electricity supply. Biomass provides 1,430 full-time jobs, and the wind industry around 620.

The fact that renewables is a small employer – especially once installations are up and running – is not a bad thing. If renewables were labour-intensive, they would be expensive.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/FS39f/2/

Up then down

The rise and then fall in renewables jobs is primarily a result of what has happened to installations of rooftop solar. The annual number of small-scale solar installations (PV and solar water heaters) skyrocketed over the four years to 2011. This rapid growth was spurred by generous feed-in-tariffs, rebates, and rules for federal government solar credits. There was also a national program to install solar panels on schools.

When these arrangements were curtailed, uptake fell. Annual installations of small-scale solar PV and water heaters are down by more than 60% from their peak. We are still installing a lot of new systems (more than 183,000 in 2016), but fewer than before. Employment estimates for small-scale solar closely track installation rates. The decline in employment in the wind energy sector is also worth noting.

The largest fall in renewables jobs has been in Queensland, a state that substantially tightened its feed-in-tariff scheme for rooftop solar in several steps from 2011 on. Queensland also holds the title of having Australia’s highest residential rooftop solar PV penetration rate (32%). South Australia is not far behind, at 31%.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/NGD1p/1/

Ramping up large-scale renewables

Recent years of policy uncertainty and backtracking have not helped the rollout of large-scale renewables. The termination of Australia’s carbon price and downwards renegotiation of the Renewable Energy Target had chilling effects on investment.

Those events are now behind us. With continued reductions in the cost of renewables, brighter days for the sector appear to be ahead, especially if our governments get policy settings right.

We can expect particularly rapid growth in jobs installing large-scale solar PV. Just last week, for example, it was announced that South Australia is to have a large new solar farm.

Paul Burke, Fellow, Crawford School, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Nature can’t pay its own way – so let’s take the market out of conservation


Benjamin Neimark, Lancaster University

For years, scientists and environmentalists have debated the best ways to conserve and protect natural resources from pollution and over-exploitation.

In the late 19th century, conservation advocates with the help of President Roosevelt succeeded in making Yellowstone the first US national park. Yellowstone’s status sent a strong message against unregulated commercial extraction and the model has since been replicated worldwide. However, the strict exclusionary nature of national parks was extremely burdensome for local and indigenous peoples who remained reliant on natural resources within protected areas.

The policy of “fortress conservation” was intended to give way in the late 20th century to a host of more sustainable alternatives, announced at the first Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. Conservation and development would be better integrated, and rural poverty addressed by bringing the poor into a global marketplace, while simultaneously delivering the market deep into the rainforests.

Since Rio, market-based conservation has gained a lot of traction, and almost all forms of nature have been commodified. Packaged into sleek financialised terminology such as carbon credits, ecosystem services or species banking, the market has become such a supposed panacea for conservation that selling nature has become, for many, the only method of conserving it.

Bioprospecting

Yet a cautionary tale of bioprospecting challenges the dominant and countervailing logic that if conservation were somehow made profitable, nature could begin to pay for its own survival.

Bioprospecting is the process of turning indigenous medicinal knowledge and nature into commercial drugs. Its advocates say it would provide the motivation and more importantly financing for conservation in the world’s biodiversity hotspots. Why chop down the Amazon if the forest might contain all kinds of useful and valuable drugs?

The drug discovery example planted in the public’s imagination the iconic image of the “‘barefoot doctor’ seeking to find the medicinal cure to humanity’s ills under the canopy of the rainforests”. But with little to show in terms of any new blockbuster drugs or significant biodiversity saved, we are left to ask why the market has thus far been so underwhelming at achieving its conservation goals?

Many set out to discover new drugs and species in rainforests, but bioprospecting hasn’t done much for humanity of late.
CIFOR/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Capitalism is not the answer

Capitalism has never really been compatible with conservation. It encourages concentration of resources in already wealthier areas, while the urgent need to protect certain species or habitats is rarely reflected in market prices which are driven by desires to turn a quick buck. For example, drug discovery takes place in large high-tech research laboratories far removed from biodiversity-rich source countries targeted for conservation.

It takes more than 15 years and hundreds of millions in research and development costs to bring drugs to market – investment costs too big for low-income counties and local communities to even conceive of, never mind getting involved in, in any meaningful way.

For conservation to be effective, there needs to be an understanding of the benefits and the burdens of bioprospecting participation for all parties involved.

National parks aren’t immune from human problems.
Connor Joseph Cavanagh, Author provided

Burdens include the displacement and loss of access for locals due to new conservation enclosures – sometimes involving violence – and the potential misappropriation of nature and knowledge, what critics refer to as “biopiracy”. Many of these issues have a serious effect on any local “buy-in” to conservation programmes, and indigenous people rarely see the value of nature in terms of individual market exchange.

Bioprospecting has come a long way in addressing some of these issues. The 2010 Nagoya Protocol, signed by 63 countries and the EU, set up access and benefit sharing mechanisms for the world’s genetic resources.

But right as bioprospecting seemed to be working out many of its problems, large pharmaceutical companies started closing their natural products divisions and moved on to the next big thing: chemically-derived computer generated molecules, known as combichem – a portmanteau of combinatorial chemistry. As with many market conservation initiatives, this was a fix; the fluidity of the market left the rural poor with little hope of a potential windfall of conservation benefits in their hands.

‘Dark shadow’ of overpopulation

For conservation thinking to move forward it needs to take into account some very important and complex issues concerning markets.

As much as we would like to believe that we have moved beyond the Malthusian belief that overpopulation and local level mismanagement leads to environmental degradation and scarcity, the spectre of too many people in the world continues to cast a “dark shadow” across our current conservation policy.

Thomas Malthus, best known for his belief that overpopulation would lead to catastrophe.
Wellcome Library, London, CC BY

This naturalisation of environmental problems fails to take into account many of the real drivers of global environmental change, such as the marginalisation of rural resource users due to poorly planned conservation policies, complicit elites, consumption by the global north and large scale extraction by multinationals. Paradoxically, many of these same industries have now become the saviours for today’s market conservation.

No one has all the answers to conservation’s complex challenges, and rarely if ever are we going to find a perfect solution. But we can find the optimal solution. It is astonishing that so many critical social and natural scientists, many of whom have devoted their lives to challenging the dominant narratives of conventional thinking, have become champions for market conservation. We can do better.

The Conversation

Benjamin Neimark, Lecturer, Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.