ACT strives for green building leadership

30 Sep 2020

GBCA is pleased to regularly invite editorials from our elected representatives across Australia. With the State Election in the ACT approaching, this month we hear from Shane Rattenbury, Minister for Climate Change and Sustainability since 2016. Minister Rattenbury discusses how the ACT is tracking in their net zero ambitions and shares his perspectives on the opportunities and challenges for the built environment and energy sector in the years ahead.

The ACT is a national leader when it comes to climate change and environmental action. This has resulted from a unique political arrangement where the Greens have a power sharing agreement with Labor, providing the Greens the opportunity to progress strong environmental policies and to take important Ministries, such as the climate change portfolio. 

With an election coming up on 17 October, we are looking to push the ACT further on environmental leadership. Green buildings and sustainable development are high on our agenda. The ACT is small, but we can showcase best practice and export our learnings to the rest of Australia. 

Achieving our goal of underwriting renewable electricity projects equivalent to 100% of the ACT’s needs has been the low-hanging fruit. It has opened up widespread opportunities for decarbonising through electrification. The next two major areas of ambition, buildings and transport, are ripe for change, but will also require behaviour change from consumers. Government will need to make the first move, and to lead the transition.

Our agenda calls for a renewed focus on green building. It is time to tackle this challenging area, and the ACT can lead the way. The Greens have a policy to set a 10-year pathway to shift to world’s best practice on climate-ready and environmentally-sustainable buildings.

With the ACT Government in the position of supplying substantial amounts of infill and greenfield land to the market each year, Government land release is a unique lever for delivering this goal. We propose to change land sales legislation so that major sites are sold for high-quality, sustainable proposals, not just to the highest bidder. 

We plan to ensure that land release will include at least one ‘showcase’ demonstration per year that pilots a major step forward in innovative sustainable development, such as a 150% green plot ratio, a carparking-free residential development in the inner city, or a Scope 3 zero-emission project.

We also have plans to phase out the use of fossil-fuel gas (‘natural’ gas), setting timelines to end gas connections to new developments - greenfill and infill - in the next three years. We’ve committed to piloting Australia’s first all-electric commercial centre, and working with a range of stakeholders to solve the challenges this presents. 

New builds will have to be sustainable and climate wise, and we’re pushing for an ACT appendix to the national construction code to support our ambition. We’ve committed to a major program of efficiency retrofitting, and financial assistance for businesses and residents to upgrade the existing buildings from gas to electric. This deep retrofit program, not just for the climate, but to assist lower income people who are struggling with energy bills.

This new frontier in building means increased electricity demand, and so more challenges in electricity infrastructure. We are now turning our attention to firming capacity with storage and microgrid technology.

These are projects that collectively will make the ACT the knowledge hub in green buildings and sustainable development. If someone wants to know how to make an all-electric commercial building, for example, or to create a zero emissions precinct, they can look to the ACT. 

The planning system itself needs to evolve as well. We are seeking mechanisms to encourage or mandate solar orientation and other passive design elements, and to promote the use of low or zero emission building materials. To help industry deliver on these things, we’re proposing a new Skills, Apprenticeships and Research-Industry Partnerships Fund.

To sum up our next Assembly term: we have a fantastic opportunity to showcase what’s possible, and to lead the way for the nation. Decarbonising electricity has left us poised to tackle the more challenging sectors of decarbonisation. The challenge is to get these policies to the top of the Government agenda and act with the urgency we need.

With so much good work by entities such as  Green Building Council of Australia to draw from, I’m up for it. If you’d like more detail, you can find all our election plans here.