Australia needs to “up the ante” on climate change and accept that it doesn’t have time to retrofit one building at a time if it is to meet the government’s target of cutting 60 per cent of emissions by 2050, a leading architectural firm has said.

Arup is calling for city-wide retrofitting programmes to be introduced. “We really need to up the ante and look at the city as one whole retrofit project,” the consultant driving the project, Adam Beck, told Architecture & Design. “We want to stimulate this at a government level.”

The city-wide retrofitting programme is the subject of a conference being held in Brisbane on Monday 25 May as part of the 2009 CitySmart Innovation Festival. Experts will discuss the possibility of a city-wide sustainable makeover, from the aspects of food, density, clean technology and transit, using Brisbane as an example. 

“We need to retrofit our ideas,” Beck said. “Architects, contractors, land-use planners and even just the general community do not challenge the status quo enough. We won’t be able to change it unless we challenge it.”

The concept, VEGA2015: The Brisbane retrofit project, draws on research done by UK-based Arup director Peter Head for his Brunel International Lecture Entering an Ecological Age

Drawing the experience from projects such as Dongtan Eco-city in China, Head uses ecological footprint analysis to set out a vision of life in a sustainable community of the future.

However, the commonwealth government needs to do more to cut emissions in the built environment quickly, Beck said. For some time, Australia has been “void” on city-wide policy and this is something that needs to change, he said.

“The built environment is like a big factory that is churning away … The commonwealth has got a large role to play,” Beck said.

The project has support from the C40 cities, the world’s largest cities that have pledged to help arrest climate change. The mayor of Toronto is also “taking up the challenge”, Beck said, and is considering Toronto as a possible pilot project. 

“So it is a bit more than blue sky thinking. We’re trying to connect with those that influence policy and those that have the money as well to help deliver the idea,” he said.