Topliss: urban planning projects need a carbon neutrality objective


Anyone involved in urban design should be aware of how quickly society’s expectations are changing. From an urban planning perspective, we see the three main drivers of change through the lenses of culture, technology and sustainability.

A recent report by the World Green Building Council (WGBC) indicates that building and construction are responsible for 39% of all carbon emissions worldwide. (Global Status Report 2017 cited in WorldGBC Embodied Carbon Report).

This is why it is so important to act now. The WGBC advocates halving emissions from the building and construction sector by 2030 and fully decarbonizing the sector by 2050. The expectation has been set.

Since this year, countries representing more than 80% of the world’s GDP have committed to carbon neutrality. As more countries and states commit to achieving climate neutrality goals, our customers’ aspirations must shift from admirable to essential carbon neutrality. There is now a very real risk that projects without ambitious carbon targets will compromise their value when completed.

Since all major urban development decisions made today will take anywhere from five, 10 or even 15 years to come to life, designers must now focus on understanding the future – or discover very quickly that their projects don’t meet not up to the new global standard of expectations.

While streamlining the move to carbon neutrality is nothing new to us, here are some of the reminders as to why all designers and developers should now aim hard at this benchmark.

By 2030-2035, when large-scale development is nearing completion or has not been completed for a long time:

1. Australia will be almost halfway to carbon neutrality.

This is based on the Federal Government’s current commitment to achieve this milestone by 2050. Most of the discussion to date has focused on how to manage the Australian economy as coal exports will have to decline. However, this masks the equally difficult need to reduce Australia’s per capita carbon emissions.

2. The Greta Thunberg generation will be the key market for products and votes.

While even the most conservative Australian voters say they care about carbon emissions, it’s still not high enough on their agenda to change their voting preferences. This new generation of voters and buyers will have different priorities.

3. Investments and companies that do not have strong green credentials will struggle to attract investors and funding.

Especially with large-scale offshore investors who already expect to see carbon reporting and carbon neutral certification.

4. The Indigenous voice will be visible in every political decision and policy change in the city.

Although Australia does not have a legally binding treaty like New Zealand, there is a growing shift to recognition and borrowed knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives. These voices are unanimously those of protection and harmony vis-à-vis natural resources.

5. The gas-powered car will be in decline and automated, electric, bicycle and public transport will be dominant.

Significant investment is underway in Australia’s charging infrastructure, with a variety of reports suggesting that between 25-30% of Australian vehicles will be electric or hybrid by 2030.

Operational efficiency and reduced emissions have been a silver lining of the pandemic, but staff will also be looking for EV charging solutions on the days they travel to work.

La Trobe Sports Park emphasizes environmental sustainability with its stadium achieving 6 Star Green Star ‘Design’ and ‘As Built’ from the Australian Green Building Council, photography by Derek Swalwell.

6. Photovoltaics and continued advances in high-performance building technologies will be ubiquitous in construction.

We will continue to see low-power technologies that are more accessible and affordable across the board.

7. Massive wooden buildings will exist in every major city in the world as a direct response to intrinsic carbon reduction.

While a mix of local and offshore timber products are currently used here for mass timber projects, the existing Australian forestry industry is well placed to pivot and scale to produce competitive, high quality local products for the Pacific Rim.

8. The need to protect the freshwater resources of large cities will be more acute than ever.

Buildings will need to be increasingly efficient in their use and reuse of this precious resource. The way of life Australians love may no longer be viable unless we act now to save these assets.

9. Across the country, green spaces, marine environments and biodiversity will be seen as more valuable than ever.

This, as we witness the damage caused by the pollution created today and yesterday.

10. Notwithstanding the implications of COVID-19 on migration, the Treasury estimates that population growth in Australia will be just under 30 million by 2030.

More people means more consumption and emissions, which is bad news considering Australia’s per capita emissions lead the world. Demand more focus on carbon reduction efforts.

11. It will just make more business sense to be carbon neutral.

Due to a combination of the benefits mentioned above, being carbon neutral will reduce tax risk, tariffs and operating costs, be more important to a greater number of stakeholders and, in turn, will lead to increased revenue.

12. Last, but not least, is the truth:

Although it may hurt human pride to know that in the name of progress we have made bad choices in the past, modern science shows that going carbon neutral is now the right thing to do for the future of our planet. and the generations that follow us.

Warren & Mahoney believe the best urban design evokes a sense of place and connection. The ability to embrace the natural environment is essential to experiencing a sense of place.

We’ve worked hard to distinguish ourselves by operating at the absolute intersection of sustainability, design innovation and Indigenous engagement. We intend to stay firmly on this carbon neutral path and influence those we work with to make every project count.

The entire building and construction industry must do this – and act faster – in order to both have the impact required and deliver work that matters.

Simon Topliss is Principal Architect at Warren & Mahoney.

Images: provided


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