Let's clean up building emissions now

Our buildings are responsible for around a quarter of Australia's carbon footprint.

But a new report has found we can eliminate emissions from our buildings entirely by 2050 – and we can do so with technology that exists today.

The Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council's Low Carbon, High Performance report finds we can halve building emissions without any technological breakthroughs, simply by boosting thermal efficiency and switching to energy-efficient electrical appliances.

We can wipe out the remainder of emissions from our buildings by investing in large-scale solar energy systems. This investment would save an eye-watering $20 billion in energy costs by 2030.

This figure doesn't include the productivity improvements that can be achieved when people work in more efficient buildings – which can be as much as 15 per cent. It also doesn't include the improvements in quality of life that people enjoy when living in more comfortable, energy efficient homes.

When Australia signed the Paris Agreement in April, we committed to work towards a zero emissions economy by the second half of the century. The task before us is undoubtedly great if we are to meet our obligations, but this is achievable.

To date, we already have a lot of runs on the board. Australia is considered the "global green leader" according to the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark, and almost a third of our office space boasts Green Star certification.

While the economic and environmental savings are great, the costs of delay are just as significant. ASBEC finds that every five years of delay could lead to $24 billion in wasted energy costs and more than 170 megatonnes of lost emissions reduction opportunities.

While 170 megatonnes may seem like a meaningless number, it is the emissions generated by 131 million passenger vehicles over the course of a year, or the electricity required to power 92 million homes. In this context, it's easy to see why action is needed.

We don't have to invent, innovate or wait for technology to evolve. We can eliminate the emissions from our buildings – and we can do it now.

First published in The Age, 25 June 2016.