Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Greenies and business unite on climate action

The Age, May 19, 2010
BUSINESSES are planning an unlikely alliance with the Australian Conservation Foundation to prod the nation's leaders into fundamental action on climate change.
The federal government's decision to shelve its carbon emissions trading scheme has jeopardised investment worth hundreds of millions of dollars, driving some companies to plan a climate circuit-breaker.
One plan under review is a revival of the Australian Business Roundtable on Climate Change, which emerged four years ago when the Howard government was baulking at action.
The roundtable was remarkable for teaming an environmental group, the Australian Conservation Foundation, with six big members of the corporate world: Westpac, the re-insurer Swiss Re, Insurance Australia Group, Origin Energy, Visy Industries and BP Australasia.
The group's landmark report of 2006 warned of grave economic harm if Australia did not take early action on global warming - a view that '' took courage'' at the time, one of the founding members recalled this week.
''Between them the chief executives of these companies lobbied all the east coast premiers, the then prime minister, and the opposition leader. A lot of senior-level heavy lifting went on behind the scenes after the launch of our report, and that probably had more effect than the report itself.''
When the Howard government reluctantly moved to adopt an emissions trading scheme, the group faded, thinking its work done.
But the decision to delay the emissions trading scheme raised the prospect of a new alliance.
'' We have got some early feelers out to resuscitate something like the roundtable,'' a key player told the Herald.
When the emissions trading scheme was defeated in the Senate late last year - paradoxically with the support of the Greens, who wanted an even tougher scheme - coal-dependent enterprises were relieved.
But executives looking ahead to a world of renewable energy, carbon offsets, and gas as a first step to replacing coal, were anxious. Their investment plans hung on emissions trading being around the corner. With Labor effectively wiping the issue off its electoral agenda, that prospect is no longer bankable.
Budget papers reveal the government may not even bother with an emissions scheme after 2013 unless the international climate has shifted. ''It's a disastrous loss of momentum,'' said one industry leader.
''If you had to do a casebook study in how you can burn every single ally you have, the government could not have done better,'' fumed another insider.
''They have severely impacted on the renewables industry, the banks that supported them … the Investor Group on Climate Change, which was very strongly supportive, and people inside groups like the Business Council of Australia that tried to steer it through their organisations.''
In the service sector the effect has been immediate. ''In the banking and finance sector they are not hiring carbon people, they are disbanding those teams,'' said David Mitchell, of carbon consultancy Energetics.
Nathan Fabian, the chief executive of the Investor Group on Climate Change, told the Herald: ''We are all taking stock. We think there is a need for leading corporates, leading investors and leading academics to create a platform and deliver the right message together.''
Several days ago the chairman of Origin Energy, Kevin McCann, let fly at a conference in New Zealand. ''I am going to lobby like hell to get it back on the [political] agenda'' he said. ''The issue cannot be ignored.''
Origin is heavily invested in gas, which would have been the halfway house to a cleaner energy sector under an emissions trading scheme. Without a scheme, Origin said, the economic drivers are not there to phase out carbon-heavy coal-fired power stations in favour of baseload gas energy generation.
The government's strengthening of renewable energy programs will not be enough, it said.

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