Time to take urgent climate action

By - , Build 166

We continue the Build series on the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) and their importance to the New Zealand construction industry. This issue we look at SDG 13 – Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

THE UNDERLYING guiding principles of the SDGs are to secure humankind’s resources and opportunities in the long term and always consider tomorrow in today’s decisions. In a recent BRANZ survey, SDG 13 was considered one of the most important SDGs for the construction industry.

Built environment has part to play

Climate change presents one of the greatest challenges facing the world today. The built environment has a core part to play in how, as a society, we adapt to and seek to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Recent BRANZ research examined the current scientific evidence and initiatives relating to the design and construction of New Zealand’s built environment and climate change and how we can transition to a low-carbon economy.

The research highlighted that, for both new and existing buildings, there is a need to:

  • improve energy efficiency
  • decrease the energy supply and other forms of energy generation
  • decrease the carbon footprint
  • manage peak energy demand
  • decarbonise supply.

These measures could be taken up by designers, builders and consumers by:

  • encouraging passive solar design for all heating, cooling and ventilation demands in new builds for all typologies
  • providing incentives to help accelerate and improve indoor environmental quality, including thermal performance, internal moisture, air quality and occupant health in existing building stock
  • increasing renewables for supply grid electricity
  • encouraging low-carbon fuel options for space and water heating
  • promoting and providing resources to promote more energy efficiency and ways to reduce a building’s carbon footprint
  • investigating the feasibility of incorporating building carbon performance into the New Zealand Building Code
  • providing ongoing tracking of building carbon performance
  • providing additional practical education resources to help consumers and the building industry better understand the implications of design choices from a carbon perspective over the building’s lifetime.

Reduce embodied carbon in materials

The research also found there is a need to reduce the embodied carbon in the materials we currently construct our buildings from. This could be done through measures such as:

  • greater application of environmental impact assessment tools, such as BRANZ’s LCAQuick tool
  • increasing opportunities for reuse, recycling or recovery of construction waste
  • incentivising manufacturers to be more transparent about the carbon and environmental impacts of their products.

Three key areas for climate action

There are three key areas where climate action is needed to address the impact of climate change on the built environment.

Coordinated climate change action

Coordinated action is imperative if we are to help create a zero-carbon built environment. For example, an independent climate organisation should be established that can create awareness, be a source of information and provide a point of contact for the public in search of information and support.

Another aspect of coordinated climate action is to just get on with designing and constructing zero-carbon buildings. Doing this will help the industry develop skills and knowledge to make zero-carbon buildings a reality in New Zealand and help establish a market for zero-carbon buildings.

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Climate change literacy

There is a great need for climate change literacy. By this, we mean resources with guidance to help consumers, industry and other sectors to see how their actions and practices interlink with the impact of climate change on the built environment.

Increasing climate change literacy will enable conversations between groups that often struggle to talk to each other. A central part of climate change literacy is about utilising existing infrastructure, such as the Eco Design Advisor services for houses. These are offered freely by some local councils to help consumers make choices that incorporate zero-carbon building and design features that may mitigate and adapt to the impact of climate change.

Once individuals, designers and the community understand their role in climate change impacts, they are more likely to take action.

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Actualising change

There is a great need to move beyond the rhetoric of climate action and start making changes. The banking and finance sector needs to be more forward thinking to help support investment in zero-carbon buildings.

Strategic forward planning will help promote investment in mitigation and adaptation solutions to provide more resilient infrastructure. This will create a housing stock that will last longer, be more energy efficient and healthier and help us reach our Paris 2030 emission targets.

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Future BRANZ climate research

SDG 13 – Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impact is a critical issue for the building and construction industry. Future BRANZ work seeks to establish and outline research criteria that foster research impact and help support the building and construction industry to address climate action.

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For more

The BRANZ built environment and climate change report will be available to download later this year from www.branz.co.nz/study_reports.

Download the PDF

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Articles are correct at the time of publication but may have since become outdated.