Tim Reed panel interview with Stan Grant, Towards Zero, ABC

02 November 2021

Event: Tim Reed panel interview with Stan Grant, Towards Zero, ABC

Speakers: Stan Grant, host Towards Zero; Kelly O'Shanassy, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Conservation Foundation; Amelia Telford, National Director of Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network; Tim Reed, President of the Business Council of Australia

Topics: COP26


Stan Grant, host Towards Zero: Joining me is Kelly O'Shanassy, the CEO of the Australian Conservation Foundation, Amelia Telford, Seed National Director and Tim Reed, the President of the Business Council of Australia. It's nice to have all of you with us. Amelia, I'll go to you first of all, as a voice to the future. I don't want to make this about age, but you've got more invested in this perhaps than the rest of us. You may be around to see the worst of it. Would you go into this with a sense of optimism, despite the disappointment of previous meetings like this?

Amelia Telford, national director of Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network: I mean, we have to have optimism right now. If we didn't, it would be very tough. And I think unfortunately there is a lot of doom and gloom and there's reason to be frustrated, but there's a huge opportunity that we have right now. This meeting that's going on in Glasgow is being talked about as one of most important meetings of our lifetime. And that's exactly right. It's unfortunate and irresponsible that our government is dragging their feet and holding the rest of the world behind. But I think as a young person, I can't not have hope. I get to work with amazing young people in communities every single day who give me hope. Because they're out there getting the job done now, not waiting for anyone else to do it for them.

Stan: Tim, tell us about the journey that business has taken. It wasn't that long ago that the Business Council of Australia and other business groups were criticising previous Labor governments, accusing them of wrecking the economy by setting just the sort of targets that we're seeing a coalition government set now. So what has shifted for business?

Tim Reed, president Business Council of Australia: Well, I think a lot has shifted for everyone, Stan. But I think the criticism in the past was really about targets without plans and what the business community has been doing and what the BCA had done is spend the last two years working with our members. Everyone accepts the science of climate change, and everyone accepts the need for business to lean in. And frankly, if we're going to decarbonise the economy, it's going to be because businesses invest and that businesses lead. So the work that our members have been doing, they have been individually building plans and then we, as a collective of the Business Council, have been working on what are the economy wide things that we can be doing? What are the policies that need to go in place? And what do we think is the optimal path to get there? And that's the important thing, I think, that we collaborate together, that business, regulators, government, non-government organisations all come together on this because it is a massive challenge for us as a community, but there is opportunity for us. And I think that in the past, the debate has been, ‘do we do the right thing and how much will it cost and what's the economic cost of that?’ What we've really been trying to do is reframe the debate because Australia can grow, Australia can thrive, and Australia can decarbonise.

Stan: Kelly, you've also been looking at the potential benefits here. In terms of jobs, I've seen some of the numbers and some of the modelling that's being done, potentially enormous. But if you're looking at 2050, what is the economic pay off of reducing carbon emissions?

Kelly O'Shanassy, chief executive officer of the Australian Conservation Foundation: Well, taking action on climate change is an enormous opportunity for Australia, Stan. We've just done a study with the BCA actually, and the ACTU and WWF Australia, and that's showing that there's 395,000 new jobs and $89 billion of revenue for this country if we take action. But of course, if we don't take action on climate change, the risks are vast. That will be damaging to all jobs in Australia and around the world because global warming is very, very dangerous. We're already seeing that and feeling that in Australia with the heat waves, the very dangerous bushfires that we're having, and our Pacific Islanders, as we've just heard, our friends in the Pacific Islands are simply just trying to outrun sea level rise at this moment. So we need to get on with the solutions that are right in front of us.

Stan: Kelly, the reality is though, you talk about the winners, but there are going to be losers and there's got to be a period of transition. And those losers are potentially from coal mining areas in seats that have proved decisive at previous elections. How do you bring in people with you who are going to be hurting and their jobs are going to be lost, and perhaps they're not going to be retrained for the new jobs that are going to be coming once we've made the transition?

Kelly: That's absolutely right, Stan. We've actually had a project up in Gladstone in Central Queensland, which is the heart of coal and gas country for a few years now because the people up there know that their jobs are going, because the world is moving away from coal and gas. They want to transition, they want economic diversification, they want new industries, but they want help from governments to help them get there. And our governments are very sadly sticking their head in the sand, rather than having honest conversations with people who just want a future.

Stan: Amelia, one thing that we have seen is that while opinion polls may show that people give lip service to wanting action on climate change, election results will tell us something different, including the last federal election, where mining areas of Queensland were particularly decisive. As someone who is involved in this space, as someone who has some optimism around this change, what do you say to the reality of how people actually vote and what the politics of this is about?

Amelia: I think the reality is that the polling isn't just lip service. The majority of Australians do want strong action on climate change and don't want public funding to be going to industries that are fuelling the climate crisis. And yet that's what we're seeing. I think what we're also seeing is a government and the opposition who are being fuelled by political donations from the oil and gas industries that are fuelling this climate crisis as well. And so, when you consider the money that's backing these campaigns and the tactics that have been used throughout history, we've seen this time and time again, whether it's dividing and conquering First Nations communities, whether it's promises that go unbroken, communities are just genuinely worried, genuinely concerned and want to be able to vote for people who are going to stand up for matters that affect them in their lives. I think that politics right now is incredibly frustrating in this country, but we are coming up to an election and Australia does have a mandate from voters to be taking strong action on climate change. But right now they're deliberately ignoring that and enough is enough.

Stan: And Tim, the next election, this is going to be a cornerstone of it again, and the debate about who is the most responsible to deal with this going forward, but there are communities and you pointed out to Kelly and the work that you've done on what the benefits are going to be, there are communities that are going to be hurt. And those communities in the past have shown that they will vote in their immediate interest, their hip pocket, their jobs, their schools, their kids’ education, paying off their houses and so on. How do we deal with that change, that shift that we're trying to go through right now? At a time, and I'll just add this to it, at a time when the rest of the world for all the good will and all of the commitment is not really shifting the dial. We're still as reliant as ever on fossil fuels like coal.

Tim: I think Stan, we've got to be honest with people. We've got to engage in a conversation about what the reality is and what the opportunities are. The reality is that the world is committed to decarbonisation. If you look at our export footprint in Australia, we are very unique in that we are a wealthy country that has a very carbon intensive export footprint. We make a lot of money, and all Australians benefit from that, not just those in those electorates, from the exports that we have. We have great customer relationships. We're in a thriving region and we are absolutely blessed with the resources that we need to continue those customer relations, to continue to provide energy to the growing Asian economies, but to make it green and clean. And we need to have a talk to people about the fact that this isn't about a domestic issue, because those governments have committed to the fact that they are going to be net zero. And so that transition is going to happen and it's going to happen over the next three decades. The reality is for us, the best thing we can do, is get ahead of it. The best thing we can do is start to see those industries of tomorrow so that there are new jobs for all of those people. And as Kelly pointed out, we believe there will be far more jobs. Just coal alone, if you look in a decarbonised world, if Australia holds its current market share in the five key metals that are needed to decarbonise, then the export industries from those metals alone will be two and a half times what coal is today. And that's just in minerals. So the opportunities for us are huge. But what we need to do is have honest conversations with people because it is going to be a transition, but there will be jobs, particularly if we pull together and play as Team Australia.

Stan: Kelly, quickly, before we go, what's an optimal outcome for you at COP26?

Kelly: Well, there have already been excellent announcements by many countries of their 2030 emission reduction targets, the UK, the USA, and many others. That's what I'd love to see Australia do to match those countries by at least halving our emissions by 2030, that's the responsible thing to do. As we pointed out tonight, it will also reap great benefit for Australia if we do that.

Stan: Amelia, about 30 seconds, what would you like to see from the developed world to the developing world in terms of adaptation and mitigation and more funding for support the impact of climate change from COP26?

Amelia: Well, I think what we need to see is investment in First Nations communities in our self-determination because when it comes down to it, our leadership in dealing with the climate crisis is absolutely going to be make or break, and our ability to be able to make decisions about what happens on our country and to practise our cultural responsibility of looking after the land and looking after one another. So we need to see indigenous rights respected as a part of the global agreements that world leaders are talking about.

Stan: It's been a pleasure to have all of you on the program. Thank you again for your time.


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