City of Sydney takes global climate action. Photo: Michael Hitch

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BY MICHAEL HITCH

Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney, Clover Moore has joined forces with over 23 cities around the world in order to fight climate change as part of a Global Climate Action Summit. Over 4,500 delegates from cities such as Sydney, London Montreal, Paris, Tokyo, New York and Washington DC called upon national governments to step up their climate change action commitments at the summit which was held from September 12-14.

The City of Sydney Council has signed up to six agreements during the summit which include commitments to reduce waste going to landfill, increase the use of renewable energy and to make all local buildings have zero net energy consumption. At the summit, Ms Moore pointed out that that strong action to climate change in cities was vital as cities generate 75-80 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions despite only covering two per cent of the world’s surface.

Ms Moore said: “Since 2006, our City economy has expanded by 37 per cent and, with business as usual, our greenhouse emissions would have increased by 50 per cent. Instead, we have driven emissions down by 25 per cent in our own operations, and city-wide by 20 per cent.

“We’ve achieved this because we developed a long-term plan with ambitious targets and we determinedly stuck to that plan for over a decade. We’ve also found that our business leaders, their employees and our residents are very ready and eager to work with us. “These extra commitments at the Global Climate Action Summit will work alongside our current target to make our local area ‘net zero’ by 2050.

“However, Australia is among the highest producers of greenhouse gas emissions per capita. We are doing everything we can to build a prosperous and resilient global city, but we are facing shameful inaction by our State and Federal Government.” The commitments include enacting planning policies to ensure new buildings are ‘net zero’ carbon by 2030 and that all buildings in the local area are ‘net zero’ by 2050. A ‘net zero’ building has zero energy consumption and instead uses renewable energy created on site to power the structure on an annual basis.

Other commitments include reducing solid waste going to landfill or incineration by 50 per cent (compared to 2015) by 2030 and having 100 per cent renewable energy for all heating, cooling and transport by 2050. In order to achieve the goals of constructing ‘net zero’ buildings and ensuring renewable energy uptake, the Council will also commit to phasing out the use of coal power and supporting clean energy through policies and investments. Bond University in Queensland successfully constructed the first educational ‘net zero’ building in 2008 with the ‘Mirvac School of Sustainable Development’ having achieved a 6 star green star rating. The ‘Green Star’ system was developed by the Green Building Council Australia and is a and comprehensive rating system that evaluates the environmental design, construction, interiors and performance of buildings and communities in order to determine the structure’s environmental sustainability.

Senior Teaching Fellow for Sustainable Environments and Planning at Bond University, Ned Wales said that he was delighted to hear that the City of Sydney Council was leading the way in sustainability. “It’s great that the local government is taking on the leadership and not waiting for state or federal government to mandate it [sustainable buildings],” he said. “It’s amazing that achieving ‘net zero’ or certainly reducing the amount of pollution that our buildings produce is really coming from a grass roots movement rather than waiting for government to create policy.” Mr Wales also discussed the economic benefits of the sustainable development “renaissance”.

“Normally a building like the ‘Mirvac School of Sustainable Development’ would cost $9 million if you just built it in the usual way with centralised air-conditioning and lighting and so on. With the sustainable features, the building actually cost $14 million to build and as a result the building paid for itself in savings of energy within 5 years.”

“If asset holders purchase a building that’s gonna cost a lot of money to keep running, then they’ve got an asset that’s depreciating in value. The asset holders, not the developers, get real benefit from having a sustainable building in terms of long-term cost.” Owner and creator of Sydney’s Sustainable House, Michael Mobbs said that the commitments are a step in the right direction, but other considerations need to be assessed. “We need to start doing what farmers do every day out in the country,” he said.

“However, there are real barriers to making buildings ‘net zero’. The first is the fear from architects and engineers to actually do these things cause they haven’t been trained at university and secondly the red tape and the design processes are so complex. “This is good idea, but it should’ve happened yesterday, there’s so much waste and loss of capacity …  this is an emergency.”

A City of Sydney spokesperson said: “We lead by example and we partner with businesses and residents to help them on their journey. As the first government in Australia to be certified carbon neutral, our achievements show the impact that can be had at a City level.” “Well-designed buildings that operate efficiently and powered by renewable energy can be safe, comfortable and affordable, especially when taking into account lower running costs.

“Buildings are the predominant source of emissions in our area today and the biggest opportunity.”