While both Labour and the Green Party pledged during the election that new government buildings would meet stringent sustainability requirements, the New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC) says little progress has been made on the issue.

In a letter sent to Climate Change Minister James Shaw and obtained by Newsroom, dozens of building companies, real estate firms and other stakeholders urge the Government to move faster on fulfilling the pledge.

“We represent some of Aotearoa’s largest and most significant companies in the property and construction sector, and we are writing to you to urge you to deliver on a key pledge, of which we see little progress, made during the last election campaign,” states the letter, co-signed by Fletcher Building, Consumer NZ, Victoria University of Wellington and Bayleys Real Estate, among others.

“A commitment that government will only build to ‘high environmental standards’, such as Green Star, will send a clear signal to all in the building and construction sector that our industry is going to play an important part in achieving a zero carbon Aotearoa. Given the agreement between the Greens and Labour on this issue, the election promises by both parties, and the urgency of the issue, we hope to see in the very near future a public commitment that all new government buildings are built to be healthy, green, low carbon places.”

During the election, the Greens promised to “ensure new government buildings are built to high environmental standards”. Labour went further, committing to work “towards requiring Government-funded construction projects to meet GreenStar 5 or 6 or equivalent”. Green Star is a measure of sustainability for buildings devised in Australia and is endorsed by the NZGBC.

“Green Star is how the sector certifies our buildings, and we strongly suggest government do so too,” the letter stated.

Depending on what metric is used, buildings account for between 2 and 20 percent of New Zealand’s annual emissions. The Climate Change Commission found that buildings are responsible for about 3 percent of the long-lived gases emitted by New Zealand in 2018. The NZGBC, meanwhile, uses a consumption view to say that the built environment contributes a fifth of New Zealand’s emissions when you assign emissions released in manufacturing construction materials to the buildings instead of the industrial manufacturers.

In a statement to Newsroom, Shaw said the Green Building Council was right to call for more action.

“The building and construction sector can, and should, play a key role in helping create a low carbon future for Aotearoa New Zealand. Draft advice from the independent Climate Change Commission says the same. They identify some of the opportunities in this area, particularly around energy efficiency and construction materials,” he said.

“MBIE’s Building for Climate Change Programme has an ambitious vision to change the way we build. There is a lot of work to do in this area, which will take time.”

Shaw also urged the NZGBC to submit on the Government’s Emissions Reduction Plan later this year, as it would play an important role in decarbonising buildings.

“Action to reduce emissions from all buildings will form a key part of the Emissions Reduction Plan that will be published later this year, after the Commission publishes its final advice,” he said.

It remains unclear whether or when the Government will mandate that all new public sector buildings meet strict environmental standards.

The Climate Commission made a number of recommendations around decarbonising buildings in its draft advice released in late January. That included a controversial proposal to ban new connections to the natural gas grid from 2025 onwards, improve energy efficiency and a phase-out of fossil fuel heating systems in buildings from 2031.

It also said new commercial and public buildings should be built to higher standards.

“Commercial and public buildings can quickly transition away from coal to alternatives such as biomass which could use existing boilers. Our path assumes that by 2030, coal use in commercial and public buildings has been eliminated,” the Commission wrote.

“Our analysis shows that the biggest opportunity to reduce emissions associated with operating buildings is by reducing fossil fuel use, especially gas. Continued improvements in the energy efficiency of existing buildings is also essential, particularly in large commercial buildings and public buildings.”

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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