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Talking time is over: business and industry plan for climate action

With the Glasgow climate summit just a few weeks away, a group of Australian business and industry leaders have come together to form the Climate Ready Australia 2030 (CRA2030) alliance with a goal to create a detailed plan on how to quickly transition to a net zero future.

“I think all the debate to date has been about should we have a plan,” says Australian business leader and corporate sustainability expert Ann Sherry, who also sits on Griffith University’s Climate Ready Initiative (CRI) board, which is overseeing the project.

“This is really getting a coalition of people together to make a plan and really deal with some of the thorny questions that have been thrown around as obstacles.”

Group members show the diversity across Australia with a taste for climate advocacy.

“We know that no one organisation or sector can do this alone … we want to be part of the solution.”

Rosemary Addis

The CRI board includes economist and former federal Liberal Party leader Dr John Hewson, as well as impact investment expert Rosemary Addis. Industry bodies such as Engineers Australia and the Planning Institute of Australia have joined CRA2030, with more welcome.

“This is an invitation for lots of people – including to governments – to step forward,” says Addis, co-founder and director of Impact Investing Australia. “We know that no one organisation or sector can do this alone… we want to be part of the solution.”

Today’s announcement does not come with a bullet point plan. They’re still in the very early stages, and are asking more business and industry groups to come onboard. However, with a stated five-year timespan, the group plans to start releasing ‘a shared agenda’ in short order to nail down a roadmap that industry – and particularly small and medium business – will be able to use.

Depoliticising is going to be really important if we’re going to get actionable steps.

Ann Sherry

The CRA2030 alliance is coalescing in the shadow of a federal government that’s been slow to act on climate change policy. Change seems to be coming, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison likely to announce a net zero by 2050 target before Glasgow; however at this stage he’s suggested he won’t be attending the climate summit in person.

Although the CRA2030 group acknowledges that without the government’s involvement work could be slow, it hopes that as more industry groups come on board, politics will be kept out of the discussion. Griffith is being a “neutral chair” to get the “politics out of the planning”.

“I think the challenges will continue to be trying to depoliticise it, because the politics have got in the way of action,” says Sherry. “Depoliticising is going to be really important if we’re going to get actionable steps.”

Individually, people are very aware of what needs to be done to stop climate change and get to net zero, but when you drill down to how best to do that as a nation it’s surprisingly complex.

“Are we going to use clean hydrogen? That’s a question that’s still on the table at the moment,” says Sherry.

“What infrastructure does it require? Do we have storage for clean hydrogen at ports? Nothing works unless you’ve got all the component pieces put together.”

This is where having engineers on board is so important. The CEO of Engineers Australia, Dr Bronwyn Evans, believes that engineers, particularly young engineers, are already raring to go.

Industry experts suggest that, at this point in the climate emergency, not making a quick and effective transition to net zero will negatively affect business.

“You have to start,” Evans says. “Unless you start it’s impossible to make it happen.

“It’s one of the strengths of engineers to say, ‘Okay, our ambition and our aspiration for 2050 looks like this. How do we get started, how do we build that plan, how do we go beyond targets to actually start creating actions that are going to deliver on that?’

“There will be some elements that will work very seamlessly and very effectively, and there’ll be others where there will be structure and infrastructure that will need to be put in place,” she adds.

Climate action is sometimes seen as a movement against business, but the industry experts suggest that, at this point in the climate emergency, not making a quick and effective transition to net zero will negatively affect business.

For example, without climate action and targets in place, trading with the European Union is going to become much harder.

“They’re demanding products that support net zero by 2050 so it will be something that we want to do for economic, social and environmental reasons,” says Evans.

“We’re part of global supply chains, and in so many industries we’ve got major exports and if we’re not able to provide the products or services that comply with their requirements we’ll miss out.”

And what of companies that may not have the planet’s best interest at heart? In fast-moving industries, where appearing to do the right thing is easy, and actually doing the right thing is hard, is the CRA2030 alliance worried about ‘greenwashing’?

“If you really want to greenwash, you just put it out in your own report and you smile and you move on,” says Sherry. “This is about action. If you’re greenwashing, [CRA2030] is not the place to be.

“Even people who might have once thought that greenwashing was sufficient… I don’t think there’s many companies left who really think that it’s going to cut it anymore.”

If all goes to plan, the CRA2030 alliance might make getting to net zero a little easier to navigate.

Next come the difficult questions of implementation. We know that climate change will affect the poorest of us significantly more than those with means, so making sure solutions are as equal and just as possible is another important step.

“We want net zero, but it’s not a zero-sum game,” says Addis. “There’s lots of opportunities to create new industries, create quality jobs and arm communities with the data they need to see the pathways towards a really terrific, prosperous future.

“But at the moment that information is not evenly distributed. The skills aren’t evenly distributed. The finance and the capital aren’t evenly distributed, so we need to work on that.”

The size and complexity of these issues, and their solutions, won’t magically disappear with lots of stakeholders to juggle. But if all goes to plan, the CRA2030 alliance might make getting to net zero a little easier to navigate.

“My hope is that it galvanizes others to think about how can we all come together,” says Evans.