News from the front desk: Issue 316 – on why the good news from NSW is so important

NSW’s announcement on Thursday of a huge aspirational targets on carbon emissions and climate is not just good news for the state but for the entire sustainable built environment around the nation and climate advocates everywhere.

Zero carbon emissions by 2050. Half a billion dollars over five years to support the targets, which also includes climate adaptation because, let’s face it, we’ll need those. There will be $200 million to each of renewables and energy efficiency sectors. Whoo Hoo!

These are targets that will no doubt make Malcolm Turnbull’s weird sticky little coal mates in Canberra white with apoplexy

It’s news and ballsy commitment of major significance. It will have a domino effect on other weak and prevaricating states and territories – and it will do the same in business. It will make the ambitious fire up even more and those that are lukewarm pull their toes out of the water and dive right in.

ASBEC, the umbrella group for the built environment, was delighted and very happy to spruik that so many of its recommendations had been taken on board in the policy. At last, after so much work on planks and roadmaps and research to identify the rationale for a carbon transition in the built environment, its value and payback (huge) and even how to do it, someone in the political whisperers camp paid attention.

No more were the fruits of its massive work chucked into a bin, because 40 coal lobbyists are waiting in the corridor.

Around the country NSW’s new policy will be a wake up call for its competitors.

NSW is also not SA, bullied by the rubbish spouted after its power blackout, and now signalling it might ramp up its gas fired electricity. There seems to be an SA before the storms and an SA after the storms; poor South Australia. Let’s hope the nasties can lay off.

NSW is also nothing like Queensland, shy after its abusive recent past and saddled by a populace that is divided by passion – those that have it for change and a future worth having, and those that don’t.

And it’s not Victoria which is perplexing some people these days. Vic Gov, hello! You’ve had a few good announcements and a few bits of action to follow. but we need a bigger call from you now. We know there’s plenty of vision and leadership in your denizens and we know it’s a struggle to keep up with them, but time’s up.

The closure of the Hazelwood power station, after the closure of your car industry are critical opportunities to demonstrate what good transition can look like.

But in NSW it’s worth asking where this sudden momentum for change has come from. With the iron curtain approach to media that controls political and government information it’s quite hard to know.

But the most likely scenario is it’s come from those climate wolves working away quietly for years on their own or in small nimble packs peppered all around  – in politics, government, business, advocacy and the community.

It also comes from pure politics and the drive to survive.

While the premier in NSW has been busy squandering his electoral patrimony on dirty roads, the killing much loved giant trees for the sake of a few vested interests and trying to hand over land clearing to the Donald Trump Party, there’s been a quiet army of people running along behind him patching up the damage. A clean and climate facing future is now a vote winner. We see the mounting evidence in consumer trends at the shops, in housing, in commercial building preferences.

Political whisperers from around the country could do no worse that pop in for a visit to Gov HQ in Sydney these days, check out who’s around and what the machinations are doing.

We got a first gist that things were shifting during the BEMP conference earlier this year when we discovered there’d been a kind of cities unit established inside the government quietly plugging away, and employing former federal cities unit member Sara Stace. Not even some of the planners at the conference knew of its existence.

Then there was the meeting with Amy Kean a few weeks ago at the All Energy conference in Melbourne and our very first video interview subject.

Kean was clearly a serious player but what made the biggest impression was her title. No weasel words pussy footing around any likely reference to “sustainable” or “clean” or “green”. Kean was not “policy adviser for energy productivity” or “advocate for technology innovation”. Nope. She is proudly, unambiguously, the NSW Renewable Energy Advocate.

Another talent in the climate renewables space recently came to light ensconced in the Prem’s office – as director no less: Gabrielle Kuiper, whose early career in this patch, with Investa, means she gets the built environment and who’s subsequent jobs with ANZ and in the Prime Minister’s office under Julia Gillard, as senior adviser, climate change, energy and environment, means she also knows about the politics.

And of course any visitor hoping to pick up a few tips  from Macquarie Street could do no worse than stop by and have a chat to planning minister Rob Stokes. Stokes has a background in the environment and renewables portfolios and he’s a pollie that seems out of the box. He keeps amassing a fan club among all he comes across. And just by way of adding to his expanding kukos he’s  somehow managed to undertake a Masters of Planning course in sustainable urban development at Oxford, as a little something to add to his PhD in planning.

In the planning arena, there are not many ministers who, within months, have if not been badly scarred then fatally wounded.

Stokes is so far managing to tread the most treacherous of political paths. 

Let’s hope he can keep up the momentum, because if anyone thought the planning portfolio was tough in the past, it’s just about to get seriously more challenging.

There are not just council amalgamations that have the potential to yield big changes in zoning and planning rules that will threaten the community, but an entire movement rising up out of the mad housing prices explosion that has its epicentre in Sydney.

Where there is pressure, something has to give. And that can be positive or negative.

Right now it’s looking amazingly positive. There seems to be underway a chain reaction of creative ideas in housing design, innovative finance, and new policy direction.

Check out our latest news on the Nightingale Model, coming to Sydney.

We’re planning an event on the housing story for early December. In conversation with leading housing proponents we’re coming across the most exciting ideas and extraordinary creative solutions.

They’re in design, in finance and in policy.

What seems to the hardest to shift is zoning.

But that’s another story.

Stay tuned.

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