The government has committed to protecting 30 per cent of Australia’s land and oceans by 2030. Picture: Lyndon Mechielsen
By Ticky Fullerton
December 30, 2022
In 2024 when Australia hosts the global environment Nature Positive Summit, Tanya Plibersek plans to lock in billions of dollars in new private investment.
This is private money heading into green territory far beyond carbon reduction. This is about biodiversity, human wellbeing, taking on pollution and being net positive across the whole environment.
For a taste of what the Environment Minister would like to see, take the British developer Arup where projects range from hi-tech wetland rebuilds, to introducing green strips in central London streets, or a giant stormwater project using green infrastructure that works for 1.5 billion people in China.
Arup arrived in Australia in 1963 to undertake the structural design of the Sydney Opera House. Today it is working on the green water management plan for Australia’s brand new city, the Western Parkland City (formerly known as the Aerotropolis).
Arup deputy chair Tristram Carfrae was in Sydney recently at the ImpactX global climate summit to talk “regenerative design”.
Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek. Picture: Dan Peled
“The biggest possible outcome is, if you can build a city that eats its own smoke, basically that is completely self contained,” he told The Australian.
Carfrae spent two decades in Australia from the 1990s leading Arup’s work on numerous stadiums, bridges, convention centres and later advising on the sustainability strategy for Barangaroo in Sydney.
He says while people know urban regeneration is rebuilding run-down spaces in cities, regenerative design is less well understood.
“Regenerative design is about achieving net positive outcomes across all systems and dimensions. Working towards a regenerative future requires a recognition that our planet is inextricably linked by complex interlocking systems developed to work symbiotically over millennia,” he says.
Carfrae says all the action taken on nature will also reduce carbon, increase resilience to climate change and help biodiversity. What is more, global business is waking up to the economic benefits.
“The IPCC 2022 Report stated that nature loss puts an estimated US$44 trillion of economic value at risk. We are seeing a shift in investors and big businesses that are explicitly recognising the link between natural capital and financial capital,” he says.
In China, Arup partnered with the Shanghai Urban Construction, Design and Research Institute to tailor a nature-based storm water plan covering 640 square kilometres and 1.5 billion people.
Shanghai’s rapid urbanisation and population growth led to impermeable concrete replacing green space with rising stormwater run-off and flood risk.
More concrete stormwater “grey” infrastructure for pipes, culverts and tanks was not only financially unsustainable, it involved carbon emissions and did nothing for liveability.
Carfrae says the Arup strategy aligned with the Chinese Government’s desire to create sponge cities that are naturally porous.
“We challenged the traditional approach of focusing solely on constructive drainage. Instead we proposed a vision of green, blue and grey infrastructure approach to support an integrated water cycle within the city which would improve ecology, economy and public health,” he says.
Using satellite imagery Arup trained a machine learning algorithm to categorise the 640 square kilometres into 12 different land use types. By understanding the land use, existing grey infrastructure could be maximised before any new spending.
“We then looked at increasing the green infrastructure which protects, restores or mimics that natural water cycle and can also improve urban wellbeing if introduced in the right place,” Carfrae says.
In Australia, Arup joined Studio Edwards and Swinburne University to regenerate wetland. Carfrae says that in the past 50 years development and pollution have destroyed more than a third of the world’s wetlands, which are the natural water cleansers and biospheres.
Arup deputy chair Tristram Carfrae. Picture: Roy Van Der Vegt
The new system uses floating planters made of mycelium fungi molded with organic matter that can be planted with wetland species to become habitats.
In Queensland, Arup worked with the City of Gold Coast on an urban tree canopy study which documented canopy density changes with different land use between 2009 and 2018. Arup Australasia co-chair Kerryn Coker says based on the information, the council is now acting to increase density.
“From research we know that 10 per cent of vegetation cover can reduce the daytime surface temperatures by one degree Celsius,” Coker says.
She says more trees and foliage improves walking routes, air quality, reduces stormwater run-off and lifts biodiversity, allowing local wildlife to move between habitats.
“Each of those has an economic benefit in themselves but areas of cities with greater tree densities being more vibrant, more attractive to retail use and more attractive to being those mixed-use centres draw people in. The benefit is very broad,” she says.
“Part of Minister Plibersek’s announcement to bring this global environment summit here in 2024 is a push to increase private investment towards restoring natural habitats and protecting more areas from harmful development. To attract the private sector, demonstrating these economic benefits is really important.”
Carfrae agrees green spaces and waterways designed into Sydney’s new third city could lower temperatures by up to 2C, a change which could make a real difference to both wellbeing and energy costs during hot days.
“You can go further,” he says. “Little things like white roofs will reduce not just the temperature of the buildings, but the temperature of the urban environment altogether. Ideally you have white pavements, white roads, everything built is white or green.”
As to the cost, Carfrae argues that like solar panels, prices will fall if scale is demanded. And much of the green regenerative design is a fraction of the total cost of project build.
Nature is the new focus of global institutions.
In June last year the Taskforce on Nature-Related Financial Disclosures was formally launched in Europe, endorsed by G7 finance and environment ministers, and funded by the UN and governments – including Australia.
Modelled on the earlier TCFD on climate-related financial disclosures, it aims to create a framework for companies to report and act on nature-related risk and drive investment in nature-positive outcomes.
Clearly there is work to be done, particularly on the valuing of nature-based changes which could be even trickier than carbon offsets. But Carfrae says momentum is building because of the win-win for the economy, wellbeing and the environment.
He cites Arup’s Wild West End Project in London which started with the Crown Estates and a goal of planting along the whole of Regent St.
“It’s not just about isolated pockets of planting, it’s about interconnected areas and planting so that (it helps) bird life and insects and nature, animal life,” he says.
“Having done this for the Crown Estate in Regent St, all the neighbouring landowners wanted to join in. So we are now working with Grosvenor Estate, Portland Estate and other estates to try and get it connected across the whole area.”
Arup Australasia leadership team co-chair Kerryn Coker.
Back in Australia, Coker says the nature agenda is about challenging her clients on projects to consider nature and biodiversity.
“It is having influence through our projects but also beyond to lift the whole of construction industry,” she says.
The federal government’s Nature Positive Plan was announced earlier this month. It is ambitious – with a new Environment Protection Agency to make and enforce development decisions.
The government has committed to protecting 30 per cent of Australia’s land and oceans by 2030 and it promises more certainty for businesses with clearer, faster decision making. That is a change that business would welcome.
When Plibersek was handed the environment and water ministry, some even thought it was a snub, given her experience as Labor Deputy Leader and cabinet minister in the Albanese, Gillard and Rudd governments. But the rising importance of nature-positive thinking and the major changes Plibersek has already made in office show how influential this ministry could become in Canberra and for business.
Editor: Put this article up because many people are behind a paywall – so not the best venue to make announcements for a Labor MP
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