Australia’s most populous city is getting serious about climate change. Recent research has shown that by 2050 global warming, combined with Sydney’s urban ‘heat island’ effect where large buildings and pavements hold more heat than natural landscapes, could increase temperatures by up to 3.7°C. This has triggered concerns about heat-related health problems, as well as the energy and economic implications of increased use of air conditioning. In January Sydney experienced its hottest day on record, with temperatures reaching nearly 46C.
New South Wales’ Department of Environment and Climate Change predicts rainfall increases across the region of between 20-50 per cent by 2050, as well as increased erosion and flooding in coastal areas caused by sea level rises and increased fire risks. Water authorities are also preparing for severe droughts. A 2011 report by Australia’s national science agency predicts a decline in southern and eastern Australia’s water supply, failure of some urban drainage and sewerage systems, more blackouts, transport disruption, greater building damage, and an increase in heat-related deaths, infectious diseases and air pollution.
In response, Sydney has made a greenhouse gas emission reduction pledge that far exceeds anything we are seeing in New Zealand: a cut of 70 per cent by 2030 on 2006 levels. The Council’s own operations have been certified carbon neutral since 2008, it was the first Australian city to install energy-efficient LED street and park lights which use 35 per cent less energy to run, and has the largest building-mounted electricity-generating photovoltaic solar network in Australia. A AUS$6.9 million retrofit of 45 properties owned by the authority has achieved 20 per cent reduction in energy and water use, and saved $1 million on bills. It also leads a range of initiatives to support and promote sustainable building.
Next up there are plans to design a ‘trigeneration’ system using natural or waste gases from garbage, sewage plants, landfill sites, livestock, agriculture and forestry waste to produce low-carbon electricity, heating and air-conditioning. This will supply Sydney Town Hall, Town Hall House, the Queen Victoria Building and other nearby buildings. It is hoped that similar projects can be extended to other areas in the city. The city’s Renewable Energy Master Plan even goes so far as to suggest that all of the city’s electricity, heating and cooling can come from renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind and energy from waste, by 2030.
Lord Mayor Clover Moore has said: “With temperature records here and around the world being broken ever more frequently, it is vital that we stop increasing the levels of carbon in the atmosphere that are causing climate change.”