Developers need a way to participate in the carbon market Right now, benefits don’t follow costs when buildings slash their carbon emissions

19 May 2024 by Jason Quinn

We work with motivated clients focused on reducing the carbon emissions associated with their construction projects. In general, I’d characterise their (our) main reason for doing this as the belief that it’s the right thing to do. Also that it’s essential that design professionals (and builders) develop their understanding of how to minimise operational carbon emissions. 

It’s a slightly odd mixture of values-led behaviour and calculating strategy because developing expertise in this area will position such architectural/engineering/Passive House design/construction businesses very well for the future. MBIE’s Building for Climate Change (BfCC) programme has signalled it will release operational and embodied carbon calculation requirements and eventually impose caps on these numbers at the building consent stage. Companies that have already developed deep expertise in these practices are going to find their services in great demand at that point. Doing so is a vital step toward achieving New Zealand’s commitment to climate change goals and I sincerely hope the current government does not step away from the BfCC programme. 

It’s curious to consider who benefits when a developer builds a lower carbon home. Some marketing advantage occurs, although perhaps at this point it’s mostly due to often coincident comfort, better health and energy savings. However the carbon benefits accrue to society as a whole, not to the developer and not to the owner of the home.

We really need to deal with this split incentive. BfCC can help with a stick at the consent phase, eventually anyway. But our government should consider some sort of carrot as well. Currently there is already a carbon credit marketplace in New Zealand but there is no way for forward thinking developers or product suppliers to participate. This needs to change. Buildings are a significant contributor to New Zealand’s carbon emissions and unlike the agricultural sector, we already have the technology and expertise available to significantly reduce those emissions. We just lack political will.

I got thinking about this topic after listening to a brief item broadcast on RNZ earlier this month (you can stream it on the RNZ website here, headlined “The accounting rules at the centre of a major climate fight.”)

Treasury has given advice to the governing coalition that between $3,000,000,000 and $23,000,000,000 ($3-23 billion) will be needed by 2030 in order to meet the first international obligations falling due under the Paris Agreement. That’s needed to purchase an estimated 100,000,000 (100 million) tonnes of carbon offsets on the international market. That’s a very big liability but it doesn’t appear on the Government’s books and that is controversial. 

The story features former climate change minister James Shaw and former treasury analyst and now think tank director Christina Hood, who both told RNZ that the payment should be included on the books. If future policies offer subsidies to support local businesses transitioning to lower carbon emissions, the cost of those programmes will appear in the government accounts. But the corresponding savings (coming from the need to purchase fewer overseas carbon offsets) won’t show up. “Any extra savings that we can make within New Zealand is less that we have to purchase offshore,” said Christina Hood.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *