Climate change’s new industry alliance

Several months ago, during the on-going debates about how best to address the global climate challenge, a new alliance of business and industry was born to help advance the climate economy transformation.

On the face of it, the alliance was a collection of organisations that weren’t natural allies. But on closer analysis, there was an unmistakable logic to their association, an underlying sense of purpose and shared commitment to driving a solution. The alliance – named Climate Ready Australia 2030 (CRA2030) - is the flagship project of Griffith University’s Climate Ready Initiative (CRI) and at this stage includes Engineers Australia, the Planning Institute of Australia, the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition and the Infrastructure Sustainability Council. Council CEO Ainsley Simpson explained her organisation’s membership of the alliance was the result of “…many shared relationships.’’

“My member base has been quite supportive of Climate Ready as well, so when the introductions were made and again, we have affiliations with some of the unis, including Griffith, there were multiple different stakeholders suggesting that this was something we might be interested in,” Ainsley said. “It absolutely aligns with our purpose and many of our strategic priorities.’’

What becomes clear in a deeper assessment of the alliance, is that it represents an opportunity for other peak bodies and community groups to become part of a shared plan for sustainable economic transformation. There is already knowledge gained in one industry to be shared with another, strategies devised, and plans made that can be adapted and implemented in other organisations and businesses.

The CRI initiative is already connected to a range of high-profile business identities through its board – chaired by impact investment expert Rosemary Addis AM, alongside fellow-board members, including business leader Ann Sherry AO and former Liberal Party leader and economist Dr John Hewson AM.

What the CRA2030 has the potential to achieve, according to Ainsley, is the capacity to tap into the commonalities on climate action across the diverse range of businesses. “And I think those learnings and how different sectors are managing change will be extremely valuable in accelerating how we all make the shift,’’ she said.

From her organisation’s perspective, there is already widespread acceptance of the need to have a position on climate. The Council has more than 200 members, a mixture of private and public organisations across infrastructure. “Many of them have climate action positions, some are really detailed, some are really aspirational but almost all of them have a position and we are seeing those commitments starting to translate into things like procurement practices driving greater demand and that flows through the entire value chain,’’ Ainsley said.

The CRI goal is to ensure that key economic sectors in Australia, including agriculture, energy, health and infrastructure, are prepared for the changing dynamics of the climate economy transformation.

Rosemary Addis said: “Done well, the transformation required by climate change has the capacity to deliver substantial positive social, economic and environmental benefits.

“This is an ambitious project aiming to fill this critical gap, by developing a detailed plan of how to get there, in collaboration with the industries and community groups that must be part of the solution.’’

CRI Executive Director and CRA2030 Convenor Sam Mackay said industry and community groups could help shape a shared plan for sustainable development by joining the Alliance.

There is evidence that momentum is growing: since CRI’s launch, there have been several peak associations and organisations keen to become part of the Initiative’s collaborative approach. Together, they will spend five years aiming to identify what Sam described as “…the big transformative actions and investments needed to minimise Australia’s risk and enhance our opportunities…’’

Governments were galvanised – some more than others - through the COP26 meeting in Glasgow last year, when the world watched to see how nations would respond to the climate challenge.

Ainsley said Glasgow had heightened awareness about the importance of the original Paris agreement from 2015 to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (preferably to 1.5 degrees), with the goal of reaching a climate neutral world by the middle of this century.

“I think there’s greater awareness about the international collaboration that’s going to be required to reach the kind of outcomes that we all need to achieve,’’ Ainsley said.

“So, I think that what has changed is awareness and because of that what’s also changed is the momentum and the pace of change, and certainly for my organisation and my members what we’re seeing is an amplification as a result of COP 26 coupled with the infrastructure-led recovery as a result of Covid-19 catalysing monumental change that we’d always hoped for but perhaps weren’t necessarily prepared for. So, I see an acceleration as a result of COP 26.’’

Her membership has been advocating for more sustainable change for some time, and she has seen some significant change, especially at a state level.

“Since 2012 we’ve been measuring sustainability performance, [and] all of those levers are starting to be pulled but they’re probably being pulled with slightly different intensity and those are unlocking rather than becoming barriers,’’ Ainsley said. “From a supply chain perspective once it’s really clear what infrastructure asset owners and operators are expecting and what their needs are, the supply chain will come along, and they will innovate and deliver. But there has to be absolute clarity about what the expectations are and to a large extent there has been – and still is – a large amount of inconsistency from a policy perspective, from a procurement perspective. But there is progress.’’

To make more rapid progress though, there needs to be a national consistent approach that makes the outcomes clear to the supply chain, so it knows what to do and how they deliver it.

“Next, I think we need to focus on capability and capacity – this has been a fairly niche thing – it’s not widely known or understood but it is readily recognized now that this is a market driver, a business driver, and if you invest in sustainability you are not only doing the right thing, but it’s also good for business, so I think creating more awareness has been done to a large extent,’’ Ainsley said. “Now, we what need to do is to build the skills and capability to execute on what is now a fundamental business driver.’’

What is beyond argument is that there is now not only recognition of the importance of climate’s economic impact but also its transformative power.

“We’ve got global momentum around an absolutely critical area for change, but with it we can also drive greater resilience,’’ Ainsley said. “We can start focusing more intentionally on a more inclusive environment, particularly when it comes to infrastructure.’’

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