Attitudes to responsibility for climate action

This content forms part of the issues brief on climate change.

Climate of the nation survey results 2017

Source: The Australia Institute

Government action

There is also growing awareness among local, state and territory governments of the urgent need to take mitigating action to address the physical and economic risks of climate change. The Victorian and Australian Capital Territory Governments have committed to net zero emissions by 2050 and in Victoria the pledge is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15-20 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. Likewise, the Australian Capital Territory government has pledged 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions on 1990 levels by 2020 and 100 per cent renewable energy by 2020. The Sydney City Council is an example of a regional government leading climate change adaptation. The City is Australia’s first carbon neutral government with ambitious targets to reduce emissions by 70 per cent by 2030 on 2006 levels. Sydney and Melbourne City Councils are part of the C40 global network of 96 governments taking local and regional action on climate change.

Business and financial

The chorus of concern from the corporate world is growing in volume. Chi Mun Woo, Partner, Sustainability for KPMG writes…

“The forecast for our planet, the environment and our communities is not pretty. We don’t want to go there. Some cope by denying any of this is happening. But the longer we dither, the harder others will need to work to slow the pace of change. And the more we will need to pay to repair the damage and compensate victims. The business community accepts this and many organisations are at varying stages of factoring climate policy and physical risks into strategy and risk responses.”

In 2016 the Australian Centre for Policy Development released a legal opinion prepared by the President of the New South Wales Bar Association which concluded that company directors who fail to consider the impact of foreseeable climate change risks on their business could be held personally liable for breaching the duty of due care and diligence they owe to their companies. In 2017, Geoff Summerhayes, Executive Board member of the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority provided the following advice:

While climate risks have been broadly recognised, they have often been seen as a future problem or a non-financial problem. Many of these risks are foreseeable, material and actionable now. There could be either sharper, more significant policy changes and market adjustments down the track, or the physical impacts of climate change could become more severe, more likely and more unpredictable.

The international investor movement to divest from fossil fuels is another example of powerful action taken by capital. Over 852 organisations and 59,524 individuals have pledged to make no new investments in the top 200 oil, gas, and coal companies and to scale back investments over the next three to five years. The combined assets of these divestment supporters is $6 trillion. Australian individuals and philanthropic foundations are participating in this campaign.

In 2015 Bank of England Governor Mark Carney warned investors and business leaders of the urgent need to recognise and address climate risk, highlighting three major areas of concern:

  • physical risk around the effects of climate change.
  • transition risk from the shift towards a net zero emissions economy.
  • liability risk for company directors, trustees, and insurers.

Community and not-for-profit

The perceived policy vacuum on climate change and energy has seen individuals and not- for-profit organisations taking action on climate change. Advocacy to strengthen the commitment of Australia’s governments to climate action and to stop developments which result in high emissions – such as new coal mines and broadscale tree clearing – are core business for a number of large and small organisations. There are also organisations seeking stronger vehicle emission and building standards, and better incentives to accelerate the adoption of emission-reducing technologies such as renewable energy.

Examples include locally organised initiatives, community owned generators and programs to increase awareness of energy saving measures. There are also a wide range of activities which aim to protect and enhance the carbon stored in native vegetation, which has both climate and biodiversity benefits. This includes indigenous land management programs, where traditional vegetation burning regimes are encouraged to prevent wildfires. Given the significant risk climate change presents to agriculture, a growing number of farmers are participating in advocacy and also adopting innovative land and water management techniques (for example: Farmers for Climate Action).

An increasing number of charities are looking for ways to further their social missions while dealing with the implications of climate change. The Brotherhood of St Laurence has a research agenda focusing on ways to reduce climate change impacts for people on low incomes. There is also a new, growing Just Transitions movement, supporting communities to transition their economies away from fossil fuel extraction or generation. The movement looks to sustainable economic solutions as a means of saving these communities from decline, but also to address current disadvantage or inequality.

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