Australia must seize leadership opportunity in sustainable infrastructure

13 August 2019

Australia could lead the world in sustainable infrastructure with benefits for the community and business says Infrastructure Australia (IA) in the Australian Infrastructure Audit released today.

The Green Building Council of Australia welcomes the report as fresh evidence to support urgent action to ensure the productivity, resilience and sustainability of cities and communities across Australia.

GBCA CEO Davina Rooney said that, concerningly, IA has found that we are at risk of not meeting our 2030 Paris Agreement commitments to reduce emissions due to increases in transport, direct combustion and fugitive emissions. 

“The Audit contains a clear warning that Australia risks becoming one of the highest carbon emitters per capita in the world,” Ms Rooney said.

“However, these stark challenges sit alongside the considerable opportunities that the right infrastructure can unlock to support the increasing demand for services that is coming with the growth of our cities, regional communities and towns.” 

The GBCA is pleased to see the Audit acknowledge the significant contribution buildings can make to: reducing our emissions, easing the transition to a low-carbon future across the economy, and building resilience. As IA notes, and consistent with the GBCA’s own Carbon Positive Roadmap, these opportunities are broad and include a focus on improving the efficiency of appliances, equipment and building envelopes, fuel switching to electric alternatives, and deployment of on-site distributed energy and water systems or offsite low-carbon electricity. But IA observes that Australian governments often do not incorporate sustainability or resilience into their final infrastructure projects. 

“To fully seize the opportunity on offer, Government must support the right infrastructure, informed by our broader policy objectives, community need, and appropriately valuing whole of life and broader social benefits,” Ms Rooney said.

“The success of standards like Green Star are rightly acknowledged as providing benchmarks that reduce carbon use and waste, save water and promote better outcomes for communities and the end-user. 

“The leadership of Australian industry through the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark and the World Green Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment informs the significant opportunities for action highlighted in the Audit.

“The opportunity to expand industry and government leadership, in parallel with greater policy certainty, will deliver benefits across sectors, whether in energy, water, transport or social infrastructure.”

The Audit notes, that in an environment marked by policy uncertainty, Australia’s natural energy advantages, and consumer appetite to seize control of their energy infrastructure, must be leveraged to support our energy transition.

“The importance of better understanding the role of green and blue infrastructure in urban environments, and integrating water in urban planning is rightly identified as an opportunity to enhance quality of life and manage urban heat islands that will increasingly impact the liveability and resilience of our cities,” Ms Rooney said.

“It is fantastic to see the broad benefits of social infrastructure acknowledged as essential to the liveability of our communities. But equally governments must grapple with the significant challenges associated with ageing social infrastructure, particularly in social housing, education, health and aged care, and increasing demand for services. 

“The opportunities for this infrastructure to deliver broad co-benefits: to positively contribute to the challenges we face in water, energy, emissions reduction, and better patient and education outcomes should not be overlooked.”

Perhaps most importantly IA finds that engagement with customers and the broader community is often lacking in the development of business cases for infrastructure; citing $20 billion of infrastructure projects paused or cancelled over the last decade in part due to community opposition.  

“IA’s findings highlight the importance of continuously improving our approach to business case development: developing broader business cases for projects that effectively communicate quality of life benefits, and articulate projects in term of desired community and policy outcomes over the long-term,” Ms Rooney said.

“IA is to be commended on this Audit as an invaluable evidence base to support a vision that responds to our nation’s most significant challenges, but which highlights the enormous opportunity ahead of us. The GBCA looks forward to working with IA, and across government and industry, to help deliver the policy reform and action we need across our infrastructure investments to deliver a more prosperous, inclusive and sustainable Australia for today and the next generation.”