With around 70% of Australia’s emissions associated with infrastructure-based projects, infrastructure has a very large role to play in meeting the net zero emissions by 2050 target.
Essential infrastructure in sectors such as housing, transport, energy and water is potentially at risk from sea-level rise, coastal inundation, intensifying weather events and bushfires.
Infrastructure has the potential to decrease impacts on the environment as well as introduce new pressures on it. Assets that accelerate progress towards net zero greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy and the sustainable management of water resources, should be prioritised, recognising the crucial threat that climate change poses not just to the natural environment but also to wellbeing and the economy. This includes minimising the impacts of infrastructure on the environment, such as the generation of waste, habitat loss, pollution and the loss of amenity and cultural heritage. Further, planning for new infrastructure should recognise opportunities to enhance the delivery of these environmental and social outcomes.
Sector challenges and opportunities
Our state’s economy is emissions intensive and ongoing decarbonisation is needed to align our activities and commodities to a net zero emissions future. However, WA has access to some of the best renewable energy resources in the world, and has a land mass to support the footprint required by the renewable energy and carbon farming sectors.
Across Australia, jurisdictions have set net zero greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, with some supporting their position through interim targets or dedicated legislation. The WA Government has established a long‑term policy of economy-wide net zero emissions by 2050, but has not yet set interim targets or formalised emission reduction targets through legislation. In the absence of climate change legislation, government-led climate action relies on the initiatives set out in the WA Climate Policy, combined with effective government coordination and accountability.
Most state agency and government trading enterprise plans have not communicated that climate change mitigation and/or adaptation considerations had factored into infrastructure planning, project selection, design or operation. There is also no whole of government sustainability framework that seeks to balance social, environment and economic objectives. However, sustainability is being applied to some major projects through using sustainability rating tools to guide infrastructure planning and design.
Infrastructure that is not prepared for a net zero emissions future also risks loss of value and restricted finance. Banks and superannuation funds are increasingly providing sustainable finance to government infrastructure projects because of their low investment risk, good returns and positive environmental, social and governance impacts.
There is increasing public expectation around environmental protection and environmental impact transparency. Over recent years, WA has made substantial technical and cultural advances in the sharing, curation and public availability of environmental information collected across industry and government, and there is opportunity to establish a shared analytics and data framework for environmental information.
Over time, development patterns and the provision of infrastructure has resulted in a decline in urban tree canopy cover. Urban tree canopy is increasingly being recognised as valuable to infrastructure resilience as it can take pressure off an increasingly strained built environment.
For WA, reducing its emissions to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 is both a challenge and an opportunity. Several jurisdictions have begun decarbonising their economies, despite population and economic growth. Since 2005, WA’s emissions have increased by 20.8%, primarily attributed to production expansion in the resources industry. WA’s transport emissions have also increased, driven by a growth in population and vehicle numbers. For further information, refer to: https://www.industry.gov.au/data-and-publications/national-greenhouse-accounts-2019/state-and-territory-greenhouse-gas-inventories-annual-emissions