Photo by Sulthan Auliya on Unsplash

The New Zealand government is making a bold climate commitment with a plan to transform the building sector, which includes aggressive new efficiency standards for energy and water use and mandatory reporting requirements on construction materials and waste.

On Friday, the New Zealand government announced its Building for Climate Change Programme, setting out plans to slash carbon emissions in the construction sector and improve building resilience to climate change.

The move is a massive leap forward in New Zealand’s goal to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

The construction sector has a notoriously large carbon footprint, accounting for a massive 20 per cent of New Zealand’s greenhouse gases from energy use and embodied carbon, the carbon emissions created by the construction supply chain.

The New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC) praised the program as a huge step in the fight against climate change.

“Over the last few years we’ve seen momentum grow rapidly, with more of the construction sector actively thinking about their impact and how they can build better. This program elevates that conversation to another level.” NZGBC chief executive Andrew Eagles said.

“This sends the industry a clear message that this is the future, that they need to get involved and do their bit to help mitigate climate change.”

Raising the bar

The government will outline a plan to lift the nation’s current building code, which has little to no consideration of climate and too low standards for energy and insulation.

Core to the program are two new frameworks geared toward operational efficiency and reducing buildings’ embodied carbon.

For operational efficiency, the government will establish new, more aggressive efficiency standards for energy and water use as well as comfort standards on temperature and air quality.

These measures stand to benefit everyone involved, keeping efficiency at the forefront of all design aspects while maintaining a comfortable lifestyle with lower bills.

To cut down embodied carbon, the government will set mandatory reporting requirements and targets on construction materials, the construction process, waste disposal and building demolition.

One integral part of both frameworks is raising public awareness and spreading better information on why energy efficiency and embodied carbon matter in the fight against climate change.

By making this information more accessible, the government hopes to empower the public to make informed decisions about what kind of buildings they want to see and force lasting change in the building sector.

Climate resilience

The government also announced its push for more climate resilient buildings in line with the National Adaptation Plan, a full government effort to cope with unavoidable climate change consequences.

Buildings will have to be redesigned to accommodate a growing number of extreme weather events associated with climate change.

Not only will buildings have to be protected externally, but they will have to be equipped to use increasingly scarce resources more efficiently in the event of water shortages or power outages.

In addition to strengthening resilient building regulations, the government will work to improve non regulatory options such as insurance availability, incentives and provision of information.

What about a retrofit?

The work will initially focus on new buildings to keep construction ticking along at a steady pace and avoid any sharp shocks. 

While a spotlight on new buildings and homes is fantastic, the existing built environment is also in need retrofits it may not get. 

The government hopes that the new buildings will be enough to achieve its 2050 goals, a position the NZGBC called “worrying.”

“While it’s going to be really important that we build zero carbon homes and buildings, our existing stock absolutely needs a desperate retrofit to ensure we no longer have homes contributing to respiratory illness, or commercial buildings using vast amounts of energy wasting businesses hundreds of millions of dollars each year.”

Still, the NZGBC is hopeful the government will stick to its guns and make the changes necessary.

“The vision laid out by the government is a great one, but we need to move quickly and create some short term targets. The government is promising bold action and a once in a generation system change. We need to ensure this program delivers the change our future generations deserve.”

2 replies on “New Zealand unveils revolutionary green building program to fight climate change”

  1. As with a a lot of these initiatives, compliance doesn’t seem to get much of a mention.
    This is the main reason we decided to build to PassiveHouse standard. Even if we can’t achieve it, we know that there has been documentation all through the construction process and there is performance testing to say, yes we have an airtight envelop.
    I guess without a thermal camera, it is difficult to know if there are any actual thermal bridges or areas where insulation wasn’t installed correctly, but again there is a lot of photographic evidence taken along the way so we do know that we got what we paid for!

  2. It’s time to differentiate between labelled ‘R’ values for insulation and installed ‘R’ values. Often installed ‘R’ values are half labelled ‘R’ values and hence the energy efficiency achieved does not meet expectations.

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