Research has found that across the world buildings are responsible for 19 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions and our cities are responsible for up to 70 per cent. Hence, designing buildings that produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions is essential to help limit global warming and the threats it poses, but buildings also need to be designed and constructed to cope with the changing climate conditions.
The urgency of rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions was highlighted in the bleak prognosis from the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report. Released earlier in the year, the report states that limiting global warming to 1.5C requires ‘far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society’.
This includes changes in the way cities currently function, including land use, energy, industry, buildings, and transport.
Two researchers from the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Architecture Building and Planning, Dr Anna Hurlimann and Dr Georgia Warren-Myers, have released a new report which identifies several barriers inhibiting the construction industry’s response to adapting to climate change.
The current regulatory framework is a key hurdle that many stakeholders within the Australian construction industry raised in interviews with Dr Hurlimann and Dr Warren-Myers. The National Construction Code (NCC) doesn’t explicitly address climate change, but updating the regulations is an opportunity to set new benchmarks for the industry. Therefore, the NCC and its associated standards need to be reviewed and strengthened to ensure climate change adaptation and mitigation are addressed.
In the absence of any updated regulations, another barrier is the lack of client demand for buildings to be designed and constructed to address climate change. This sits alongside the perceived additional costs of building and including these mitigation and adaption measures.
Yet many people that the researchers interviewed said that better regulation to address climate change would be beneficial. This would create a ‘level playing field’ for the industry and encourage innovation in the sector.
Significant climate change impacts will happen within the lifecycle of buildings that are being constructed now, so, it’s important to design for these changes today.
“Unless we rapidly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, we will all face significant and catastrophic impacts including increasing drought periods, a spike in the number of extreme heat days, increasing rainfall intensity, and a rising number of extreme events like floods, cyclones, and bushfires,” Dr Hurlimann and Dr Warren-Myers said.
“These changes will influence the way our economy and society function.”
To limit temperatures to increase by 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels by 2100, and to limit climate change impacts, global greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced fast to 50 per cent by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050.
As the IPCC’s special report states, achieving this goal will require a rapid transformation of urban infrastructure systems including transport, the layout of cities, and the design and construction of buildings.
In addition, risk to operational capacity and building obsolescence will become key considerations for owners and occupiers alike, requiring forward planning and construction of buildings to withstand and cope with future challenges.
Australia is going through a significant period of population growth. This translates to a large volume of construction, like dwellings and associated urban infrastructure, which is underway in many parts of the country.
“It’s critical the construction code is updated to ensure that new buildings going up now address the changes we know are occurring and will continue to escalate in the future,” the researchers said.
“Ignoring future climate change in construction is likely to end with many buildings and infrastructure projects becoming redundant, expensive to run or maintain, or even uninhabitable. This creates a plethora of problems for current and future generations.”
‘Barriers to climate change adaptation in the Australian construction industry – Impetus for regulatory reform’ by Dr Hurlimann and Dr Warren-Myers can be found here.