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The Perth Protocol – a manifesto for the planet at a time of extreme urgency

If there is one thing you need to read as COP 24 daily calls out the fierce urgency for climate action, it’s this manifesto for the planet. Its author Peter Droege, a leading global academic, previously based in Australia, has dropped a bomb on our complacency in the most compelling of ways. We need un-development and global gardening. Just to start. 

An urgent call to decarbonise and regenerate the built environment has been issued by a major Australian R&D consortium which rails against “widespread complacency” and “tragic” missed opportunities. 

A provocative discussion paper, The Renewable City – The Future of Low Carbon Living, says that it’s no longer just urgent but “manifestly overdue, as a result of political delays and incumbent industry inertia” to take stronger action. 

The paper launches the “Perth Protocol”: a set of paradigms and principles to shift to cities and regions regenerated through renewable energy, individual and collective innovation towards a 100 per cent renewable metropolitan region. 

It calls firstly for “a truly carbon-negative built and cultural environment” which it defines as “one that removes, sequesters, stores and binds greenhouse gas already in the atmosphere”. 

Time for un-development and global gardening

But this “cannot be enough”, it says. To address the damage humanity has done to the planet “a massive regenerative action agenda needs to ensure, to attempt by ‘global gardening’ the un-development and re-nurturing of Earth’s biosphere.”

Written by Peter Droege, director of the Liechtenstein Institute for Strategic Development and a distinguished academic in the field of renewables and the built environment, the paper is published by the Cooperative Research Centre for Low Carbon Living, which helps develop new social, technological and policy tools for the future.

Perth and Fremantle – incubators for a return of nature into all our lives

Droege mentions Perth and the City of Fremantle as a fertile incubator for important projects, introducing the concept of ultralow-carbon life (ULCL) to replace low-carbon living (LCL) – a regenerative lifestyle, encouraging the return of nature into all our lives.

The second part of this paper is a compilation of inspiring and pioneering examples of ULCLC from Europe and around the world, written in a discursive style, that reads very much like an update to his seminal 2006 title The Renewable City: A comprehensive guide to an urban revolution or an extension to this year’s second edition of his Urban Energy Transition.

Droege on fire, like our planet soon will be and forget migrating to another

But before this comes a rant! You can sense the impatience from a man whose entire professional life has been about urban solutions to climate change. He rails against “widespread complacency”, “tragic” missed opportunities, but also salutes many successes: “Sustainability principles, once seen as quaint aberrations in a landscape of business-as-usual have emerged as urgent survivability measures”.

Droege satirises humanity, lamenting the strong possibility that our “Spaceship Earth” could “morph from Goldilocks habitability into what would be a very difficult planet to colonise”. He ridicules the idea that if we screw up this planet we might emigrate to another.

And our leaders are mostly crazy…not at all rational

He clearly thinks our leaders are mostly crazy: “To a rational mind it should suffice to see that we are leaving the safe band of plus or minus 1 degree Centigrade”. Therefore by our inaction we prove ourselves unworthy of being labeled “rational”.

He deplores that “the knowledge that the continuation of urban and agricultural civilization will be increasingly difficult, let alone that of what we regard as ‘advanced civilisation’ has not yet moved our policy leaders”.

By contrast, Droege paints a compelling vision of cities “transforming carnivorous food culture and industrial agriculture, lowering atmospheric GHGs and binding them in soils and materials, shrinking lifestyle footprints, revolutionising water management, and shoring up biodiversity are essential elements in ULCL actions and demands for the built environment”.

The future we want is possible and already in evidence in some places

He remains, like me, optimistic that this world is still within reach “not only because it is so easily imaginable and compelling, but because it is already demonstrated as developing across many cities, towns, businesses and communities today”.

The problem is, not enough people know about it. We need to shout, loud and proud, with the same language and visibility as any high profile social or marketing campaign.

No more nod and wink deals behind closed doors

Droege prays for “No more oil wells and pipelines, coal mines, radiation alarms or power decisions made behind closed doors” and a “new world” that “liberates and empowers, resists control by monopolies and sidesteps attacks by terrorists alike”.

His Utopian vision is of human beings no longer being consumers but “intelligent prosumers (or conducers, or prod-users)” and “engaged city leaders” with “advanced self-sufficient industries”.

It all sounds subversively revolutionary!

Very importantly he rejects any distinction between the built and natural environment in relation to human actions. “The built, agri/cultural and natural environments together must achieve the net absorption of atmospheric CO2 and other greenhouse gases,” Droege says. Each impacts on the other.

His examples of successes for the world to emulate and improve upon range from communities in Switzerland to renewable energy-powered districts in Amsterdam, London, Paris, New York, Seoul and Tokyo. 

The Swiss Kalkbreite development in Zurich that he describes is undoubtedly Utopian and works because the members of the co-operative are a homogenous and above all a rational social grouping. You get the feeling he wishes everyone could be as rational as this.

The manifesto finishes with a demand for states, cities and regions “to rise and support fundamental transformation in [their] economy, institutions and governance to enable the systematic replacement of inherited energy systems with distributed renewable energy infrastructures fully founded on new technologies and community benefits.”

Droege adds: “This also means finding ways of regenerating and retrofitting existing neighbourhoods and their building stock.”

The Cooperative Research Centre for Low Carbon Living

The Sydney-based publishers of this paper have, according to its Chief executive officer Scientia Professor Deo Prasad AO, significantly contributed to lowering carbon emissions in Australia’s built environment. 

“Over 120 CRCLCL projects have produced excellent results, such as the Built to Perform report which proves that changes to the National Construction Code could improve energy efficiency in Australian buildings by up to 56 per cent and cut household energy bills by $200-900 per year,” he says. “A low carbon schools education pilot programme which saved 266 tonnes of carbon emissions in Western Australia, is now a viable ongoing national programme called ClimateClever. 

“The CRCLCL’s Urban Heat Island Mitigation projects have provided an authoritative new body of Australian research critical to how we keep our cities cool and we published Australia’s first guide to urban cooling strategies which has been downloaded over 2,000 times,” said Professor Prasad.

The Centre is in its last year of funding.

David Thorpe is the author of The One Planet Life, Energy Management in Buildings and Sustainable Home Refurbishment.

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