Why the new Net Zero Authority is significant

Anna Skarbek, CEO, Climateworks Centre Fri, 19 May 2023

The federal government recently announced the establishment of the authority, which will oversee the country’s move to net zero. The agency is essential to ensure crucial targets are met on time and workers are supported to change from fossil fuel industry jobs to new opportunities. Anna Skarbek, CEO of the Climateworks Centre, outlines its significance.

The week before this year’s federal budget, there was a rare moment where the climate movement celebrated a government announcement that was universally welcomed: Australia’s federal government is establishing a Net Zero Authority.  

As outlined in a joint announcement by the Prime Minister, Treasurer and Minister for Climate Change and Energy, the authority will have three main jobs: 

  • support workers in emissions-intensive sectors to transition to new jobs and learn skills 
  • coordinate programs and policies across government to help regions and communities attract and take advantage of clean energy industries 
  • help investors and companies take up opportunities in the net-zero transformation. 

“The importance of this news cannot be underestimated: Without such a body, Australia risked making the net-zero transition too slowly, or not at all. “

There have long been calls from industry, unions, green groups, academics and others for an overarching body to help coordinate the net-zero shift. The campaign for this has seen excellent collaboration among groups of all types, and over many years. The work began in the era when the federal government denied the need for a national net zero target or plan, and it is thanks to philanthropy and the union movement that this work was sustained and developed over many years. 

During the past three years, Climateworks Centre at Monash University worked with industry, CSIRO and international research experts to examine what’s needed for Australia’s energy transition to succeed. The collaboration, known as the Australian Industry Energy Transitions Initiative (ETI), delivered its final report in February of this year, identifying net zero pathways for five supply chains in Australia’s mining and resources sectors that contribute over $200bn in GDP each year and over 25% of national emissions. This work was majority funded by philanthropy, with contributions from participants and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).  

Findings from this report stressed the importance of coordinated action from finance, industry, community and all government departments at all levels; the value of a co-investment approach as a way for governments to combine multiple, smaller funding sources to achieve scale and efficiency; and ideas such as “renewable energy industrial precincts” – clusters of industrial businesses in one place, powered by 100% renewable energy. The Net Zero Authority has the mandate to drive these missing pieces forward. 

The ETI program also provided evidence of the scale of new jobs that could be created and the scale of investment attraction to deliver the transition. Philanthropy has supported years of local-level engagement with and among communities affected by the energy transition, and the Net Zero Authority’s mandate shows they’ve been heard, with its clear priority to support workers to change from fossil fuel industry jobs to new opportunities. 

“It is thanks to sustained philanthropic support and the climate movement’s strategic collaboration that this authority could be created within the first year of a new government, and with a budget of more than $80 million.”

Policymakers inside government also worked hard in the last year to bring it to life through a new cross-government collaboration – the Net Zero Economy Taskforce – in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. 

Yet there is so much more to do to ensure successful implementation and create scaled- up policy support in all sectors of the economy. Climateworks research is now mapping net zero emissions pathways in buildings, infrastructure, transport, agriculture, energy and finance. In all these areas, action is needed in policy and community engagement and investment. And it’s needed not just in Australia but in our region too, across Southeast Asia and the Pacific.  

There is momentum now, with many examples of successful collaboration behind other major climate action announcements in the budget last week including $2 billion support for renewable hydrogen and over more than $1 billion support for home energy performance upgrades. All of these drew on research and engagement from philanthropy-funded groups.  

Philanthropy is the reason Climateworks exists and succeeds. Established in 2009 by a $4.6 million grant from The Myer Foundation in partnership with Monash University, over a decade later, Climateworks remains more than 80% funded by philanthropy, ensuring our independence, and proving essential to our impact.

Our philanthropic supporters empower us as a trusted, independent, evidence-based adviser for climate solutions. They have allowed our work to evolve and expand to include emerging needs and opportunities. And they have been vital to our success in helping net zero by 2050 become the norm, and our work supporting key decision makers to understand how to embrace the opportunities and solutions available. 

The transformation to a decarbonised economy offers a moment of great opportunity that must take place at a dizzying scale. And it must and can be done while addressing the needs of our workforce, industries, neighbours and nature. 

Now is a time like no other: we have an urgent opportunity to amplify our contribution to the Net Zero Authority and to increase ambition across all systems where we work, to achieve the net zero goal.

“Again, we must call on the real heroes – the philanthropists who recognise this small and urgent window of opportunity and the real impact we can deliver – to help ensure that together, we get there.”