Mid-year, Australian federal, state and territory ministers are scheduled to gather for a significant decision that could have far-reaching impacts for all Australians: they will meet as part of the Building Ministers Meeting, to discuss an overall update to the National Construction Code (NCC) which could improve efficiency standards for new buildings and major renovations in Australia.

Home energy standards have not been lifted in a decade, and this meeting is especially significant because all governments now have net zero emissions targets — so this will be one of the first major tests of that multi-jurisdictional policy.

This is also their opportunity to deliver on the Trajectory for Low Energy Buildings commitments, made by federal, state and territory energy ministers in 2019. In addition to setting a trajectory towards zero energy (and carbon) ready buildings for Australia, the Trajectory was agreed to in order to provide policy certainty for industry investment and job creation, as well as cost of living and wellbeing benefits for households.

Ahead of the Building Ministers Meeting review, community support for an updated NCC is growing. Climateworks recommends Australia’s governments adopt and urgently implement the Trajectory’s agreed improvements to energy provisions at that meeting expected in July or August this year. Central to these improvements is an upgrade from 6 to 7 star homes with strengthened energy provisions, which will reduce the cost of living for households — a claim backed by four separate pieces of expert analysis, including the Consultation Regulatory Impact Statement (CRIS) released by the Australian Building Codes Board.

A vital step for net zero policy in Australia

All federal, state and territory jurisdictions are now committed to net zero, and buildings will be a critical contributor to this goal. Climateworks Decarbonisation Futures scenarios, prepared with CSIRO, show that Australia’s pathway to net zero emissions requires the building sector to reach net zero as early as 2035. In fact, stronger housing energy standards could deliver 15 million tonnes of cumulative emissions reductions by 2030, and nearly 80 million tonnes by 2050 — equivalent to taking up to 12.3 million cars per year off our roads.

By strengthening energy provisions in the NCC and mandating the urgent implementation of a 7 star minimum energy standard (up from 6 stars), Australia’s governments have an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to reducing emissions, as well as reducing the cost of living and improving building quality and comfort for Australian householders.

As Climateworks Centre’s Cities Lead Margot Delafoulhouze highlights, ‘It’s a no-regrets decision for governments that can be achieved, in most cases, with simple design changes at very little cost.’

So what’s at stake for Australians?

Australian home energy efficiency currently lags behind international best practice and it rates among the world’s worst performing developed countries, according to the International Energy Efficiency Scorecard.

This means Australians are missing out on safer, more comfortable homes made possible through better insulation and more efficient heating and cooling. As heatwaves and climate-related risks to households become more frequent and severe, failure to upgrade the NCC means risking living in buildings that can’t adequately protect our health.

Importantly, upgrading the NCC now offers a significant hip pocket benefit too, because it will reduce cost of living for households. For example, Hobart households would save up to $3050 a year in heating and cooling costs, while in Brisbane, households could save more than $1600 each year. In total, Australian household energy bills savings add up to more than $20 billion between now and 2050. Implementing these changes urgently will be key: delaying implementation could cost Australians up to $3 billion in bills and network costs in the next three years, as well as the future unnecessary cost of retrofits.

Margot Delafoulhouze sums up the opportunity. ‘There are such significant advantages to acting, and major disadvantages in delaying improvements to the NCC; including for Australian households, the building industry, and the country’s global standing, net zero commitments and economy. It does not make sense to delay much-needed upgrades  especially as cost of living is high on the agenda. This is an opportunity to address it.’

The stakes are high, she says. ‘Without this reform, we will need to offset more emissions or find solutions to cut emissions that will be more expensive. And given the long life of buildings, inaction now would also lock in a legacy of poor performing buildings for Australian householders, renters and future decision makers to deal with. States and territory governments have the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to their net zero targets.’

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