Briefing paper

A review of roadmaps for transitioning to a zero carbon built environment in Australia

14 Mar 2016

This paper outlines and critically ‘maps’ existing roadmaps relevant to transitions to a low or zero carbon built environment in Australia. A roadmap describes the measures required to achieve goals and/or map future innovation opportunities. The three questions addressed by a comprehensive roadmap are: Where do we want to go?, Where are we now?, and How can we get there? The review identified 13 roadmaps/plans that have been produced by: peak industry bodies (Australian Institute of Refrigeration Air Conditioning and Heating); academic research groups (e.g. Sustainable Built Environment National Research Centre, Institute for Sustainable Futures); private consultancies; and non-profit research groups. Some were funded by peak bodies (e.g. Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council) or by state and federal government departments. The identified roadmaps indicate the increasing attention on low carbon transitions and important gaps and areas of divergence in existing analysis. The critical review draws on relevant theories of roadmapping, innovation management, sustainable urban development and governance.

Where do we want to go?

• The roadmaps focus on achieving highly divergent goals and most do not set a target for greenhouse gas emissions reduction. 

• Highly diverse potential pathways to a future low-carbon built environment in Australia are competing for resources and reflect value-judgements/preferences. The many areas of divergence identify competing agendas and areas of potential conflict. They also indicate the benefits of greater coordination and collaborative priority setting processes.

Where are we now?

• The major finding is that roadmaps are informed by divergent assessments of: 1) the current state of lowcarbon technologies, and associated priority technological and financial challenges; and 2) the urgency of climate action (i.e. required rapidity of de-carbonisation).

How can we get there?

• Most roadmaps focus on existing Horizon 1 opportunities (e.g. commercially available technologies) and associated possibilities.

• Far greater emphasis is placed on technical innovation, rather than other major domains of innovation for sustainable urban development (i.e. innovation in the planning, design and management of urban development; and attitudinal and behavioural innovation). 

• The change assumptions and strategies that inform the roadmaps are also divergent, often reflecting different, underlying governance models.

Additional key findings

• Overall, most roadmaps fail to adequately address in detail the key question ‘how can we get there?’ 

• Whilst decarbonisation of the built environment will involve multiple sectors (e.g. energy, construction, transport, telecommunications, and design) and their interaction, and many aspects of urban life, roadmaps tend to have a narrower focus on a single sector. 

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