Author Dr Mary Stewart
Date June 2020
In this article, I provide updates from domestic and global forums that are promoting discussion and seeking to find pathways to ensure that the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is one that features climate action and resilience as a core strategy.
To help celebrate International Women in Engineering Day, 23 June 2020, I participated in a video put together by IChemE. I joined women from around the world who work in very different fields as we answered the question, “How are female chemical engineers helping to shape the world?”.
It's a great little video you can view here, and I was delighted to participate.
Last week, Energetics’ Associate and climate change physical risk advisor, Dr Nick Wood presented on the topic of “Post COVID19 economic recovery through a climate change lens – the “necessity of necessity”. What future do we want?” I have included a few of his charts below, but the webinar can be accessed here.
Released 22 June, the International Energy Agency’s report includes 10 recommendations which provide a clear roadmap for ramping up ambition and action on energy efficiency in Australia and around the world. You can access the 'Recommendations of the Global Commission' report here.
The 20th anniversary of the summit, this has been the UN’s largest virtual conference with 15,000 registered delegates. I have attended a number of UN led events recently and the message is consistent: we need urgent, ambitious climate action. Although economic recovery is paramount following the COVID-19 shock, we must not delay and risk losing the fight to limit warming to below 2 degrees. One country provides a great example - Chile. In their updated Nationally Determined Commitment (NDC), they have an absolute carbon budget for 2020 to 2030, a pathway to net zero by 2050 and are anchoring the plan in the SDGs to support a just transition.
Below are some key takeaways from my tweets and from the Summit’s own publicity.
- “You can’t have a successful company in a failed world” – a statement made at the Summit which particularly resonated
- Given the scale of the challenge, we have to rely on private sector funds to help us address the challenges of climate change, governments won’t be able to pay for everything.
- The current crisis is threefold – health, environment and inequality, we need to do better for the less privileged in our country and our region.
- Are we going to see more ambitious NDCs in Glasgow next year? Absolutely!
- (a tweet)
(Richard Yetsenga, Chief Economist/Head of Research of ANZ Banking Group)
- Patricia Espinosa (UNFCCC Executive Secretary) called for inclusive multi lateralism. While some action has been taken on climate it has not been enough to flatten the climate curve. We need urgent action, state and non-state actors must significantly boost their climate ambition.
- Companies need to set more ambitious targets to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, a United Nations Global Compact report shows. Released to coincide with the start of the Summit., it tracks the progress of corporate sustainability over 20 years. The key findings were:
- Only 39% of companies surveyed believe they have targets that are sufficiently ambitious to meet the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
- Less than a third consider their industry to be moving fast enough to deliver priority SDGs.
- While 84% of companies participating in the UN Global Compact are taking action on SDGs, only 46% are embedding them into their core business and only 37% are designing business models that contribute to the SDGs.
- Many companies focus on Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production, Goal 13: Climate Action, and Goal 3: Good Health and Well-being. Meanwhile, less traction has been made in advancing the socially-focused SDGs such as reduced inequalities, gender equality, and peace, justice and strong institutions.
- 57% of companies measure the impact of their own operations relating to the SDGs but very few extend this to suppliers (13%), raw materials (10%) and into product use (10%)
- Only 29% of companies publicly advocate the importance of action in relation to the SDGs (down from 53% in 2019).
While the UNFCCC secretariat is not holding physical meetings, work continues to progress global climate action. Currently underway until 10 June 2020, is a series of online events which provide an opportunity for stakeholders to share information to maintain the momentum in the UNFCCC process and to showcase how climate action is progressing under the extraordinary conditions created by the global COVID-19 pandemic. At this stage too, it is intended that negotiations and decisions will continue in Bonn in November.
- 2020 is a critical year as updated Nationally Determined Commitments (NDCs) are due from all signatories to the Paris Agreement. The delay in the timing of the COP does not affect this requirement.
- While the virus has changed the technical nature of how negotiations occur, COVID-19 has shown that governments can make clear and decisive decisions based on scientific information. They in turn need to engage more deeply with the science to guide their climate response, both in terms of emissions reductions but also to adapt and build resilience.
- Six climate positive principles were articulated: the need for green jobs, recovery packages should include Paris climate goals, fossil fuel subsidies need to end, carbon should be priced, climate change needs to be incorporated into government decision taking, no community should be left behind, and countries must recover better together.
- There are elements of a green recovery that can be seen through private sector commitments from groups such as Blackrock, and governance structures through UN agencies.
- Leadership is being shown by the EU through financial support for developing countries to establish a green recovery.
- Lord Stern’s presentation reminded attendees of the warnings he and others issued over a decade ago: we need to take significant action and it needs to start now. He noted that three years of rebuilding activities will be needed in a post-COVID-19 world that must also prepare us for a world increasingly impacted by climate change.
- Central banks move more quickly than finance ministries (a comment made by the Network of Central Banks and Supervisors for Greening the Financial System). There are concerns that ‘brown’ recovery responses will only increase banks’ exposure to climate risks. The network includes 66 central banks. All of the central banks are including clear requirements to account for climate risks.
Attended by 292 participants, the event featured the work of the Technology Executive Committee (TEC) and the Climate Technology Centre & Network (CTCN). Updates were given on the implementation of the technology framework. As a business observer to the TEC, I was both a presenter and a panellist, and I spoke to the issues for the private sector in the deployment of climate technologies and the role of policy.
Key points (raised in my presentation)
- The challenge in setting policy for technology, particularly in the cleantech space, which is innovating and changing daily, is that technology-specific policy will be out of date almost as soon as it is written. It is best to define the outcomes you are looking for, rather than to specify the technologies to be considered or implemented.
- In “Enhancing finance for the research, development and demonstration of climate technologies”, a report produced by the TEC in 2016 , one of the principal messages was that the technology innovation required to deliver the majority of emissions reductions needed by 2040 has already occurred, what we require is innovation in business model and finance structures. However, in the absence of surety, the private sector has not been pursuing these technologies. Policy must be clear about the outcomes required of a system, be this the extent of emissions reductions, a country target within a Nationally Determined Commitment (NDC) or an emissions intensity for a sector. If policy is clear, the private sector will develop the business case to deliver the outcomes sought.
- Innovative local businesses can lead. Governments may need to help in the co-development of new business models, and it may be necessary to explore new sources of finance and innovative finance models.
- A good role for the public sector is to guarantee a market. In Australia there are many renewable power purchase agreements and many of the first PPAs were commissioned by local governments. Similarly, a public body could create a market for LEDs or ensure that electric buses are filled with their employees.
- This is particularly important as countries assess their COVID-19 recovery plans which will in many instances result in significant investment. Being clear about the desired outcomes (emissions reductions, alignment with the goals of the Paris Agreement, adequate consideration of adaptation) and aligning any government funding with these requirements is a prerequisite for “building back better”.
- There are three aspects of the recovery which are important for cleantech:
- Unlike the GFC which had an austerity-led recovery, the COVID-19 recovery is a growth recovery. Companies need to be encouraged to take a growth path
- We need more jobs
- We need to take decisions for the future, not the past, companies should rebuild for what they want to be, not what they are.
- NDCs are essentially development plans, they highlight the big decisions and where big opportunities lie. They should be central to how government funds are invested in the recovery.
- ‘Green’ economic recovery measures will perform at least as well as those which don’t take the environment into account. The Clean Energy Council report “Clean Energy at Work” published this month highlights the number of jobs which could be created in the renewable energy space, about 20,000 in five years – for scale the coal sector employs around 34,000 people. A week earlier McKinseys published “How a post-pandemic
- stimulus can both create jobs and help the climate” , this is based on an assessment of the American economy. The background work showed that at least two if not three jobs could be created for each dollar invested in renewable energy or energy efficiency when compared with the same investment in the fossil fuel sector. The report said you could create up to five time the jobs.
- We need to rebuild for resilience, not just for the next pandemic, but in the context of climate change. We have locked in a temperature increase of at least 1 degree and we have to rebuild in that context. In Australia while there is limited certainty in climate policy, we know what is happening with the weather. Companies who build adaptation into their rebuild efforts will reap the rewards in the long term.
 Here ‘cleantech’ refers to technologies that serve both climate change mitigation and adaptation goals.
This meeting presented a new report, Modernizing governance: engaging with directors on challenges ahead. The discussion centred on the various crises that boards are attempting to navigate: the COVID-19 health crisis, the economic crisis and the climate crisis, highlighting that it is not possible to survive the current challenges without rethinking how decisions are made at a board level. What made this session stand out was that it did not focus on governance structures for managing climate risks, it explained that the world in which we are operating has changed so profoundly that boards need to adjust how they make decisions. This change is driven by increasing uncertainty and risk, not least of which are COVID-19 and the climate crisis, other sources of uncertainty are IoT, Industry 4.0, the changing demographics in the work force, and many others.
The foreword to the report states, “This report represents the first phase of a journey to propose a set of instruments that will help boards manage their fundamental tasks and to fulfill their duties. Built on interviews with board members, it highlights practical changes needed in all areas of board responsibility and showcases useful best practices...Businesses need to go further to protect and renew their company’s social license to operate. It is time for the board to lead the way towards true value creation - dismissing “fake profit” which takes nature and people for granted, remunerating services rendered and repairing damage caused. Sending the bill for our misconduct to the weakest or to the next generation is not acceptable and boards have a duty to change their actions and behaviour accordingly.”
Joint statement from 15 representative organisations | 25 May
Released on 25 May, was a joint statement by the Australian Conservation Foundation, Australian Council of Social Service, Australian Council of Trade Unions, Australian Energy Council, Australian Industry Group, Brotherhood of St Laurence, Business Council of Australia, Carbon Markets Institute, Energy Efficiency Council, Energy Users’ Association of Australia, Investor Group on Climate Change, Master Electricians Australia, Property Council of Australia, St Vincent de Paul Society and WWF Australia. The statement leads with, “Beyond the pandemic, Australian prosperity also depends on dealing with other long-term challenges – including the transition to net zero emissions. Economic recovery efforts can and should contribute to addressing these long term challenges.” The statement can be read in full via this link.
Thought leadership on the role of business
McKinsey Quarterly issued in May considered the role of business in the recovery and building of resilience, saying, “The COVID-19 pandemic presents an unforeseen challenge to industrial operators as they face the immediate impact of plummeting demand for many products, as well as pressing needs to ensure the safety of employees. Yet even as industries grapple with structural changes, and as societies and economies pivot to the “next normal,” companies themselves have a window of opportunity to adapt their operations to help reduce the disruption that climate change will ultimately bring.” I do recommend this article!
Carbon conversations: webinars with the Carbon Markets Institute
On 15 May 2020 I participated in a webinar, “Carbon Conversations” hosted by the Carbon Markets Institute (CMI). Our topic was “Industry trends and market movements in the net-zero business transition”. I was joined by Peter Castellas, CEO of Tasman Environment Markets Australia’s largest carbon offset provider. We covered emissions reduction pathways, zero net portfolios, disclosure and reporting as well as balancing emissions reductions and adaption in the recovery post-COVID. You can access the webinars via this link. Noting too, a particularly insightful discussion was held with Opposition spokesperson Mark Butler, Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy, leader of the Greens, Adam Bandt and Zali Steggall, MP and Federal Member for Warringah. It was reassuring to hear well developed and balanced policy positions which can deliver net zero outcomes for Australia in line with Paris Agreement commitments.
There is clear momentum behind the calls to ‘build back better’. As a business observer to the UNFCCC’s Technology Executive Committee, below are insights from the UNFCCC’s June Momentum Initiative which seeks to progress global climate action under the Paris Agreement, despite the challenges of not being able to hold face to face meetings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I also highlight the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s recently launched report, Modernizing governance: ESG challenges and recommendations for corporate directors, and share developments here in Australia.
I will share further insights as I follow key sessions, and I will comment via Twitter. So please look out for updates and feel free to raise questions.