Huge increase to greening of old buildings needed to hit 2040 net zero target

Huge increase to greening of old buildings needed to hit 2040 net zero target
David Schout

The current rate of buildings being decarbonised per year was nowhere near that required for the City of Melbourne to reach its commitment of net zero emissions by 2040, a report has revealed.

A discussion paper tabled by the council in October stated that, for the council to reach its net zero goal by 2040, around 77 buildings would need to undergo a “deep energy retrofit” per annum.

This required rate was “significantly higher” than the current level. 

The council has said it would rely heavily on building owners, tenants, industry associates, facility managers and government to reach the target in 18 years’ time. 

Commercial buildings (defined as “office buildings, or buildings with some office functionality”) within the municipality were responsible for the majority (60 per cent) of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Transforming them into zero carbon spaces was seen as the biggest hurdle to achieving net zero.

“This is the biggest chunk of the conundrum and challenge that we face as we move towards our target,” Lord Mayor Sally Capp said at an October 4 Future Melbourne Committee meeting.

“I’m conscious that as developers deliver new buildings, they are meeting very high standards around sustainability and climate change mitigation and adaptation. But our biggest focus needs to be on existing buildings.”


It is predicted that more than 90 per cent of the buildings within the City of Melbourne that will be operating in 2040 have already been built today, underlining the need for a heavy focus on existing buildings rather than new developments.


According to the paper, while the market had begun the shift towards sustainable buildings as a result of changing attitudes and shareholder pressure, there was a “momentum lag” due to current regulations and motivation for change.

“The challenges result from how the building industry works, its fragmentation, and its relationship with the market and regulations,” it read.

“Unfortunately, these challenges lead to inertia … we have not yet achieved the momentum needed.”

To address this, the paper proposed seven initiatives — drawn up through engagement with more than 60 industry, academic and government representatives — to help reach the 2040 target.

These include:

  • Zero carbon leases (a step up from current “green leases”).
  • An emissions cap (similar to that in New York) which penalises poor performing buildings.
  • A rate reduction for buildings undertaking greening upgrades.
  • A retrofitting team that works with building owners and tenants. 

Cr Capp said these were “practical, achievable, impactful steps that we can take as a city”.

Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece said the council could not reach the ambitious target by itself and would need significant buy-in from all sectors.

“The truth is, the City of Melbourne cannot do this alone,” Cr Reece said.

“We don’t have all the levers that are needed; we can’t make all the interventions that are required to achieve the zero-carbon building future that Australia has to get to.”

Underlining just how much the City of Melbourne was reliant on the market to reach its 2040 target, the paper reported that “none of” the council’s efforts to support buildings towards reducing their carbon footprints during the past 25 years “have created the required momentum to get all buildings to zero carbon effectively and at pace”.

Cr Rohan Leppert said a joint approach was required.

“We do know that the property sector in particular doesn’t necessarily always like being told what’s about to happen to them, [but] this can be as collaborative a process as they’d like it to be,” he said.


“We do want to test a whole lot of ideas, so that we know that when we choose which ideas to pursue, there’s as much ownership over why we’re pursuing that particular solution as there possibly can be.”


The City of Melbourne defines Zero Carbon Buildings as “no additional carbon emitted into the environment through the construction, operations and whole-of-life of the building.”

A “zero carbon” commercial building is one which is 100 per cent run by electricity, has a zero-carbon action plan and regular reporting on energy use.

The council has pledged to use 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030 through its “Power Melbourne” initiative, which will install a network of coordinated mid-scale batteries across the city.

However, the discussion paper conceded that decarbonising the grid with 100 per cent renewables would “will only get us part of the way” to net zero. 

The council recently welcomed community input on its Power Melbourne program, which closed in early November, but locals can still have their say on its zero carbon buildings initiative until November 16. 

For more information: 


Caption: Emissions by sector within the City of Melbourne.

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