Sustainable Cities: Climate Change and Economics of Sustainable Infrastructure

by Jason Shaw

Climate change is the permanent change in a place’s normal weather conditions rather than what is normally observed in the usual patterns of weather change and this arises independently of the reasons. The climate change phenomenon has become a serious threat and crisis, forcing those concerned to take measures to minimise its rising adverse effects on human lives and activities. Typically, the consumption of electricity is primarily attributed to actions carried out by humans, who produce greenhouse gases that are blamed for triggering the depletion of the ozone layer and hence global warming that induces gradual shifts in the environment. Climate change and economies that are changing very fast as well as the pressures to preserve our environments make the need for the sustainability of cities and urban centers a priority.

Having sustainable infrastructure offers tremendous opportunities to improve the public health of the citizens as well as that of the environment, have serious savings and efficiencies amongst taxpayers and may create employment to the citizens of the cities. The city of Melbourne is positioned to become a sustainable city in the world through significant public infrastructure, which is likely to make it more attractive and conducive for human habitation as well as investments. The investments of sustainable infrastructure will largely hinge on the promotion of green buildings, improving the quality of air, harnessing power to promote energy efficiency as well as commitment to sustainable energy. It also includes the building of a sustainable Melbourne, helping businesses to reduce energy use and the imparting of skills for the sustainable use of energy by both businesses and individuals amongst other sustainable infrastructure strategies. The promotion of green buildings is done using green standards in the renovation and construction of buildings while the quality of air is improved through the reduction of toxic emissions. The city also aims at harnessing green energy, compared to fossil fuels, which release greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, it is more effective and renewable.

Background Information and Literature Review

            Having sustainable cities has come about due to the realization that economic growth in any place or city can only be attained through the proper care of the environment that we live in. Urbanization by far presents both socio-economic and environmental challenges and there must be sustained efforts through infrastructure aimed at mitigating the adverse effects of climate change (Swilling and Annecke, 2012, 41). As Australia’s fastest growing region, Melbourne has consistently worked towards being sustainable in its quest for development in order to ensure that the growth is both environmentally and economically compliant and beneficial respectively. Through the program for a sustainable city, owners of buildings especially the commercial ones have been encouraged to reduce wastage of energy and water and instead conserve them or use them sustainably. In the year 2002, the City of Melbourne introduced the Zero Net Emissions Strategy by 2020, which aimed at reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases within the City of Melbourne Corporation and the City of Melbourne. This was followed up in 2008 when it initiated a green building retrofit program known as Melbourne 1200 Buildings Program, which provided a platform for the engagement and collaboration with owners of buildings and stakeholders in different industries (City of Melbourne, 2009, p. 8). The aim of this program was to retrofit of about one thousand two hundred buildings within the municipality of Melbourne, which is about seventy percent of the commercial buildings within the coming ten years. This stemmed from the fact that the buildings were the biggest culprits in the production of the greenhouse gases to the municipality and, therefore, the major aim of this program was to reduce the emissions from polluting the chosen area through the greenhouse gases.

Questions and Hypothesis

     In this research paper, the main aim is to find out how cities can develop sustainably and their infrastructure to forestall the effects of climate change. The question remains how Melbourne as a city overcomes the problems created by the emissions that come out of their cities due to the unsustainable buildings. Further, a probe is made on how the city can successfully implement the sustainable program and, which initiatives can work best in order to get the desired results for the sustainable development. In addition, what are the cost benefits of adopting this program as compared to the benefits of the program at the end of its implementation? The hypothesis for this research is that, sustainable development of cities and mitigation against climate change can only be achieved through infrastructures aimed at conserving energy and water.

Case Study; Melbourne 1200 Buildings Program

            The choice of Melbourne for this case study for sustainable cities stems from the fact that the city has a long commitment to develop sustainably for future generations while at the same time experiences massive developments that threaten the conservation of the environment. The city has embarked on programs that aim at protecting the environment which majorly affect buildings, which have been known to be the greatest emitters of greenhouse gases that majorly cause climate change. Therefore, the choice of this city shows how the adoption of comprehensive plans for the use of energy and water in infrastructure can greatly reduce the effects associated with climate change. This can be seen from the Melbourne 1200 Programs, which focus on inspiration and cooperation, sustainable construction of buildings, sustainable energy system, sustainable planning and maintenance as well as energy conservation.

The 1200 Program’s main goals and objectives included the elimination of 383,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year by the year 2020 while at the same time reducing potable water consumption by 5,000,000,000 litres per year. It also aimed at raising about 2 billion AUD ($2.15 billion USD) in private sector reinvestment and creates a substantial number of ‘green collar’ jobs in engineering, environmental and sustainability consultancy, manufacturing and in the trade sector including builders, surveyors, plumbers and electricians, which would position the city of Melbourne as a leader in global climate change efforts. The Melbourne 1200 Buildings Program was implemented through a 1200 Buildings Steering Committee that consisted of the city and state governments and representatives from the academic and industrial world who worked closely in guiding the initiatives within the envisaged period of implementation, which was ten to fifteen years. This steering committee aimed at developing the capacity of industries to retrofit buildings, develop the financial initiatives, and promote the benefits of energy efficient buildings, which in turn will result into a sustainable City of Melbourne. It was also meant to facilitate the access to finance options for owners of buildings that opted for the program, undertook research, and displayed new technologies. The committee was also tasked with undertaking policy and regulatory reviews in order to encourage the owners of buildings within the city of Melbourne to take up the retrofit activities. In addition, part of the initiatives of the Melbourne 1200 Buildings Program was to provide an engagement platform that would include case studies, networking opportunities, information kits, and seminars for the successful implementation of this noble sustainable cities infrastructure (City of Melbourne, 2009, p. 25).

The 1200 Buildings Program’s main aim was to encourage the retrofitting of the 1200 commercial buildings within the City of Melbourne and is aimed at building momentum and supporting action through initiatives that are aimed at reducing targets in the next ten years. From the year 2009, the City of Melbourne committed more than $2.5 million to retrofit 13 Council buildings using the Energy Performance Contract model whereby an energy services company is hired to improve the energy efficiency of a building. This specific company guarantees the energy savings that it will provide and are paid from these savings for the term of the contract only if efficiency in the use of energy is attained. Under an arrangement between the City of Melbourne and the Government of Melbourne energy services company in the case of 1200 Program Honeywell Building Solutions, the energy performance contract is envisaged to generate yearly energy savings of about $190,000, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions of about1560 tonnes and savings in the consumption of water.

Under the 1200 Programs initiative, the City of Melbourne is also meant to undertake feasibility study for the construction of green roofs on three key buildings within the city’s Central Business District (CBD) and these include the CH1, 225 Bourke Street, The Commonwealth Bank Building and 602 Little Bourke Street Melbourne. This program of having green roofs on buildings is aimed at absorbing the greenhouse gases that are emitted with an aim of improving the quality of air within the atmosphere of the city of Melbourne. This sustainable infrastructure has the effect of bringing under control or mitigating against the risk factors that cause climate change.

The City of Melbourne has also collaborated with the Queen Victoria Market Solar Energy and the federal government to demonstrate to businesses and communities how solar power can be used to generate sustainable energy for buildings and cities. Through such an initiative, Queen Victoria Market has a large solar panel network on roofs that generates about 252,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year. This project has been successful in providing the City of Melbourne a buy-back plan for the extra energy that is generated by the solar panels, which greatly improves the sustainability economics of the local council. The City of Melbourne also helps the businesses to attain their goals for a sustainable future through the large-scale sustainability projects. This is achieved through such initiatives such as the Sustainable Melbourne Fund, Savings in the City: Green Hotels, the Building Improvement Partnership Program and the Greening Your Building Toolkit that respond to the desire for effective and efficient sustainability assistance. For instance, the Building Improvement Partnership Program aims at improving the energy, water and waste performance of commercial buildings within Melbourne, which has enabled them, achieve a 4.5 star Australian Building Greenhouse Rating and a 4 star National Australian Built Environment Rating System (City of Melbourne, 2009, p. 11). The Melbourne City Council Sustainable Melbourne Fund also provides financial assistance and investment in detailed projects that are aimed at benefiting the community and the environmental conservation. The building owners have also been offered the Greening Your Building, a toolkit for improving asset performance, which guides them on the initiatives that are required to maintain, refurbish, design and improve the environmental performance of buildings and reduce the costs of operation.

            According to estimates, the Melbourne 1200 Buildings Program would generate an economic stimulus emanating from the retrofitting of the earmarked one thousand two hundred buildings. The figure of the amount that would be accrued in the retrofitting of the 1200 buildings would likely generate up to $2 billion AUD ($2.15 billion USD) in investments made in the private sector as well as the creation of eight thousand new green employment opportunities within the period of implementation. The city of Melbourne therefore piloted the Environmental Upgrade Finance (EUF) with the aim of facilitating access to low cost finance for building retrofits with an aim of having a sustainable city that can mitigate against the effects of climate change (City of Melbourne, 2009, p. 18).

            Since the commencement of the 1200 Buildings Program in March 2010, more than forty buildings owned by the government, private businesses as well as the large corporations have enlisted and guaranteed as signatories to the framework. The owners of these buildings have committed to carry out environmental retrofit aimed at producing significant savings in emissions of greenhouse gases and support the overall objective of the city of Melbourne being carbon neutral by the year 2020. The achievement of this important goal of being carbon neutral is, therefore, achievable if the one thousand commercial buildings situated within Melbourne are retrofitted to improve the efficiency and consumption of energy by 38 per cent, which translates to the mitigation of 383,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions each year (City of Melbourne, 2009, p. 12). The new buildings are also expected to use reduced potable water in the commercial sector and this can only be achieved through reduction of wastage in energy and water use in the major tenancies of the city as well as create employment (City of Melbourne, 2009, p. 21-23).

            As already stated above, the government of Australia also plays a significant role in ensuring that the Melbourne 1200 Buildings Program is a success with the intention of replicating its successes in other cities. This is carried out majorly through legislations and incentives aimed at making the city of Melbourne have sustainable infrastructure that can mitigate the devastating effects of climate change. The Building Code of Australia provides a framework for the mandatory energy efficiency measures that ensures that all building classes are updated periodically to make them more efficient in the consumption of energy. The government also imposes the Mandatory Disclosure of Building Energy Efficiency that requires that commercial buildings report the operational energy efficiency of commercial buildings that is aimed at the incorporation of green technologies in the renovation and construction of buildings. This means that whenever a tenant is to take up a building, the owner of the building is required to disclose the National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) Energy Rating to prospective tenants of over 2000 square meters of net lettable area to confirm that the buildings are energy efficient.

In order to make the Melbourne 1200 Buildings Program, the federal government released $90 million AUD ($97 million USD) through the Australian Federal Government’s Green Building Fund (2008-11) for the retrofitting of the existing office buildings in Australia including those within the city of Melbourne. This fund has also been instrumental in supporting a substantial number of the one thousand two hundred buildings that are earmarked for retrofitting with an aim of making them energy efficient. There are also tax cuts provided by the federal government for green buildings in that the commercial buildings that have opted to undergo retrofitting works with an aim of improving their operational efficiencies receive tax rebates of 50 per cent of the cost of eligible assets or capital works

  • City of Melbourne. (22 June 2009). 1200 Buildings-analysis of potential economic benefits.  Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu.
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  • Swilling, M., & Annecke, E. (2012). Just transitions explorations of sustainability in an unfair world. Claremont, South Africa, UCT Press.

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