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NCC 2019: The Climate Emergency Opportunity

Unless you have been under a massive lump of coal somewhere or in a state (or Territory) of climate denial, you cannot have missed the global call to declare that we are now undeniably in a Climate Emergency.


After 40 years of denial, Climate Emergency Declarations are in vogue folks and here in Australia, we seem to love them. From communities to councils, and cities to Industry, we are finally seeing a level of discussion that seems, dare I say it, pretty genuine.


With 11,000 + scientist now signatories (that’s 153 countries folks) in a global declaration of a climate emergency, how can so many of our planets most educated be so wrong? In this formal declaration, details published here, such scientists point to six areas in which humanity should take immediate steps to slow down the effects of a warming planet.


Of these steps, all unbelievably challenging in so many ways, energy clearly has massive implications on any consideration of our climate and our future. As an engineer, I know my activities are somehow connected to a great little statistic that aligns 65% of Australia’s direct greenhouse gas emissions to engineering activities alone. Pulled from an Economic Sector Review (2017), construction is a much smaller slice of the pie, but it remains undeniably import.


In terms of energy and the built environment, the efficiency in which we use and supply our buildings with energy is vitally important. And after seeing a post on LinkedIn a few hours ago, Architects Declare. Architects Act, inviting signatories in architectural practices to start acting and planning how best to deliver, an idea dawned on me that might be worthy of support.


Today, we have 678 architectural firms signed up at https://au.architectsdeclare.com/ and 134 engineering firms signed up to https://engineersdeclare.org.au/. This is amazing, encouraging and an incredible testament of our aspirations. But what if that is all it is…aspiration. So here is my idea.


Focusing on energy alone, if we are serious, would it not be fair to say that we shouldn’t be building to 2010 National Construction Code standards? Because the truth is, until May 2020, that is what the vast majority of projects are doing across Australia.


Today, we are designing and building using 2016 standards, which have not been updated since the major revision in 2010. For those overseas, new to the market or in a state of denial, our building construction code standards are maybe 20 years behind Europe today but are about to change.


As we settle past the May 2020 formal adoption of the new NCC 2019 requirements, are we going to simply allow old permits to be renewed time and time again so we are building to 2010 energy efficiency expectations and effectively moving backwards?


So getting to the point, should we, all 678 architectural and 134 engineering signatories (including my own) not be committing to energy efficiency commitments that reflect a shared vision of a low carbon future? And if so, would the stringency updates to the 2019 National Construction Code not be a perfect backstop for all new projects, rejecting any commitments to previous versions of the code as they are undeniably unequipped for the job?


This, of course, is a massive commitment that cannot be sugar-coated. It will challenge clients and CEO’s, but it's clean, clear and according to the research leading to the changes, stands to reduce energy consumption by a potential 35%.

If we cannot commit to this, then we may as well put all declarations aside as we are missing the lowest hanging fruit now available.

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