Making warm cities more liveable

May 17, 2019

The Low Carbon Living CRC (CRCLCL) is championing buildings that will withstand the ravages of harsh climates.


The Bowden low carbon development is one of the CRCLCL’s living laboratory research projects in Adelaide.

The Low Carbon Living CRC (CRCLCL) is championing buildings that will withstand the ravages of harsh climates. During the past seven years, the CRC has been researching barriers to a low carbon future which, according to a recent PwC Australia report, will exceed its estimated direct economic benefit to the Australian economy of $684 million by 2027.

“We aimed to save 10 megatonnes of CO2 emissions cumulatively by 2020, but we will have exceeded that target by next year,” says Scientia Professor Deo Prasad AO, CEO of the CRCLCL.

By focusing on how research is adopted into policy, as well as conducting basic research, the CRC has managed to achieve real change — most notably, updating the National Construction Code.

“Traditionally, the National Construction Code has eliminated worst practice,” says Prasad. “We want to move from this to encouraging best practice.”

Even small changes to building regulations could result in significant improvement in energy performance, according to the report, Built to Perform: An Industry Led Pathway to a Zero Carbon Ready Building Code, prepared by the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC) and ClimateWorks Australia, and funded by the CRCLCL.

The report found that households could save $900 a year if new homes were built to better standards. Some changes, such as choosing a dark coloured roof instead of a light one, cost nothing, while others, such as improved insulation, will increase building costs in the short term, but result in massive savings in energy bills over the long term.

“Stronger energy standards for new buildings could reduce energy bills by up to $29 billion between now and 2050,” says Prasad.

This research has provided the solid evidence required for regulatory change and has helped to inform the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), the peak intergovernmental forum in Australia, says ASBEC executive director Suzanne Toumbourou. “There is now a COAG-level commitment to a trajectory for low energy and carbon buildings,” she says.

Prasad says providing this level of certainty can help the construction industry to prepare itself for future changes. However, just ensuring buildings are energy efficient isn’t sufficient to make cities more comfortable as climate change pushes temperatures higher. The way we plan and design cities can also impact temperatures, thanks to the ‘urban heat island’ effect.

Prasad says cities can be made cooler by using vegetation, landscape materials, water bodies and cool materials.

To find out which approaches are most cost effective, the CRCLCL developed Australia’s first Guide to Urban Cooling Strategies. This 2017 report is now guiding the redevelopment of the Parramatta CBD in Western Sydney, where temperatures can be six to 10 degrees Celsius hotter than coastal areas.

“In the future, we will need a more holistic look at cities, not only at sustainability and low carbon, but also how we can build resilience over the long term,” says Prasad.

Rebecca Blackburn

This article was published in KnowHow Issue 9.

Related stories

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *