New research from UNSW Sydney has outlined a path to net zero – and even net negative – emissions by the year 2050 for Australia’s residential and commercial structures, and enhance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The project, overseen by Dr Cameron Allen in the Sustainability Assessment Program, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, modelled operational and embodied greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in a national integrated macroeconomic simulation model to discover plausible pathways to attain the objective.

The project was outlined in a storyModelling ambitious climate mitigation pathways for Australia’s built environment“, published by Sustainable Cities and Society in November.

A few scenarios were modelled. While “business as usual” will not attain enough emission reductions, the high ambition scenario that was modelled achieved a 94 per cent reduction in GHG emissions from structures by 2050, and an enhancement in Australia’s SDGs performance.

Scenario 2 (the high ambition scenario) reported that buildings are 100 per cent electrified (no gas or other fossil fuels consumed) by 2050 and that 30 per cent of more sizable buildings are built from mass-timber.

Attaining the reductions also calls upon a shift to renewable energy, enhancing energy efficiency, replacing carbon-intensive materials, and cutting down end-of-life losses in sequestered carbon. It assumes the presence of 100 per cent electric vehicles by 2050.

Recently reported ABS statistics displaying that the total distance run by electric vehicles in Australia already surpasses internal combustion vehicles demonstrates that vehicle superusers are already coming out ahead. This makes the 100 per cent electric vehicles by 2050 goal within our reach.

A possibly controversial pathway to attain net zero or net negative emissions by 2050 is to gradually enhance net immigration towards 2050 – to a level more elevated than pre-COVID-19 but lower than during the Rudd government.

In time, the boost in populace can balance against the advantages of quick decarbonisation of other components of the economy and a boost in carbon sequestered in timber in building materials. Essential to attaining this advantageous result would be the sustainable management of timber at the end-of-building life.

The research conclusions state that there “is no ‘silver bullet’ to attain net-zero and that a blend of measures will be needed. It also spotlights the advantages of applying a macro-scale integrated assessment modelling framework to study combos of policy settings and differing paths that guarantee policy coherence between differing interventions. Involving an assessment of progress on the SDGs into sectoral analyses also supplies a mechanism for reviewing broader policy coherence with other socio-economic and environmental objectives of emphasis for national sustainable development.

We can do this, but changes will need to be made.

In certain sectors, like the change to electric vehicles, we are en route. In other vicinities, like enhancing energy efficiency in our structures, and a big switch to low carbon materials, we must take action at this time.



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