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COP26: What does it mean for Australia?

For nearly three decades, the UN has been bringing together almost every country on earth for global climate summits – called COPs – which stands for ‘Conference of the Parties’. In that time climate change has gone from being a fringe issue to a global priority.

This year was the 26th annual summit – giving it the name COP26. With the UK as President, COP26 took place in Glasgow from 31 October to 13 November.

In the run up to each conference, nations work to settle a range of ‘agreements’ prior to and at the event, with respect to taking steps to tackle climate change. This year’s event, became a catalyst for Australia to make a commitment to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. This commitment is now an international agreement and will set the scene for the future of building regulations over the next 3 decades with respect to both building standards and building materials.

COP21: The Paris Agreement

The forerunner of COP26 was COP21 which took place in Paris in 2015. That conference was unique in that it became the first time every country, including Australia, agreed to work together to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees and aim for 1.5 degrees, to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate and to make money available to deliver on these aims.

Under the Paris Agreement, countries committed to bring forward national plans setting out how much they would reduce their emissions – known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or ‘NDCs’. They agreed that every five years they would come back with an updated plan that would reflect their highest possible ambition at that time.

Australia’s commitment under the Paris Agreement is to achieve an emissions reduction target of 26-28% on 2005 levels by 2030.

What is Net Zero?

Under the Paris Agreement, signatories (including Australia) are aiming to limit emissions to net zero globally in the second half of the century. Net zero does not mean we eliminate emissions completely. Rather, we should aim to offset residual emissions through, for example, planting trees or storing carbon underground or in soils. The more emissions are reduced, the fewer offsets are needed.

Australia’s Climate Change Commitment

Australia’s first move into international climate agreements was back in 1992 when the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was agreed at the UN Conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Australia ratified the UNFCCC in December 1992. Since then Australia has continued to attend COP events and to make commitments intended to reduce Australia’s impact on climate change.

In October, leading up to COP 26, the Australian Government released Australia’s whole-of-economy Long-Term Emissions Reduction Plan. The Plan outlines how Australia will achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

Amidst these objectives, there is already an array of industry sector plans in place. The Long- Term Emission Reduction Plan references the Trajectory for Low Energy Buildings as the key policy document for the building sector out to 2030. COAG Energy Ministers agreed to the

Trajectory in February 2019 as an action plan under the National Energy Productivity Plan developed in 2015. This Plan and the Trajectory are the current national policy settings impacting standards for buildings.

The Target for Buildings

The Trajectory for low energy buildings sets a 2030 target to be achieved through policies that address buildings and their energy efficiency, this being:

‘Zero energy (and carbon) ready buildings – zero energy and carbon ready buildings have an energy efficient thermal shell and appliances, have sufficiently low energy use and have the relevant set-up so they are ‘ready’ to achieve net zero energy and carbon usage, if they are combined with renewable or decarbonised energy systems on-site or off-site.’

The target, whilst qualitative in nature, sets parameters for energy efficiency standards going forward and will be a measuring stick to enable post implementation analysis of NCC changes to determine their effectiveness.

State and Territory Commitments Ahead of National

Operating in parallel with the commitments made by the Australian Government, every state and territory government has also made commitments which align or exceed the national commitments. Each state and territory has established climate change policies and strategies in place which address the built environment in some way.

Each state and territory has referenced the national trajectory and the proposed NCC reforms, but only Victoria has specifically called up a commitment to 7 stars through the future NCC. Other states have suggested they will ‘drive’ or ‘lead’ national changes without stating what they will call up.

Australia’s delegation at COP26 was represented by the Hon Scott Morrison - Prime Minister and the Hon Angus Taylor - Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction. The delegation was supported by the Australian Government – Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources. Click here to find out more information about Australia’s participation and involvement in COP26.
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