Let’s “pivot” on climate change and decarbonisation

Since COVID-19’s breakout, I’ve noticed a wide range of business leaders, politicians, and consultants obsess with the use of the expression “pivot”.

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Some beer makers made the pivot to hand sanitiser; office suppliers chose to pivot towards the home office market, and almost everyone else was forced to pivot to working from home for months.

The list of pivot references is endless. But there’s a positive in pivot too and we should take heed. “Pivot” demonstrates our keen capability for innovation and survival when the stakes are high. And there are no higher stakes for our environment than the future transition and physical risk impacts of climate change for future generations.

So what about our opportunity to pivot on the environment by seriously tackling climate and decarbonisation actions?

First, a few observations on the current situation arising out of this pandemic. Global carbon emissions in recent months have been reduced by industrial shutdowns and putting the economy in hibernation. The International Energy Agency (IEA) expects global industrial greenhouse-gas emissions to be about 8 percent lower in 2020 compared to 2019. This reduction in emissions has helped increase air quality across several congested cities. People can see blue skies. However, this reprieve is temporary and not sustainable within the current mechanics of the global economy. Most worryingly, it shows just how much emission reductions are going to be needed to meet the Paris commitments by 2050 and the challenge of the decarbonisation task in the decades ahead.

Australia continues to press on with its march to renewables. Fresh government figures for 2019 show renewables electricity generation grew by 12 percent from 2018. The increase is attributable to wind energy, large scale solar, and Australians’ love affair with rooftop solar – only set to rise with more people making their home the primary work hub.

Last month, The Federal Government released its much talked about Technology Investment Roadmap Discussion Paper, a framework to accelerate low emissions technologies, known as “the Roadmap”. It identified 140 new and emerging technologies with a focus on 50 of them as being potential priorities in the short, medium and longer term. Hydrogen gets multiple mentions as a versatile decarbonisation enabler in both Australia and overseas.

What are some of the enablers that would make the pivot happen faster?

Take leadership in technologies where we have natural advantage.
Australia is blessed with some of the world’s best wind and solar resources. This does give us an advantage in producing clean hydrogen from renewable sources. Across Australia, the momentum to develop and harness a hydrogen economy has quickly gained pace in the last two years. We are gaining world attention for our focus and this needs to continue to make hydrogen production commercially viable at large scale.

Effective and decisive decision making and governance.
COVID-19 demonstrated to many leaders that hard decisions can be made when you get the right people at the table. Recent changes announced to increase federal and state cooperation decision making gives hope that decisions on energy and decarbonisation initiatives can be made more swiftly with greater levels of cohesion and unification. Time will tell.

Cohesive, clear, energy policy and emission reduction direction.
This chorus has been the same call out by many in Australia. The Roadmap and its consultation process will be important. It needs to be backed by science and engage the right people. However, by itself, it does not yet form the basis for long term investment. Clear investment signals will be required to seriously accelerate emission reductions.

Aligning where possible, infrastructure investments with an ESG agenda.
Across the world decisions on economic stimulus packages are being made. As was the case after the 2008 global financial crisis, these decisions will continue to be made over many years to come. While recognising the importance of prioritising immediate economic recovery caused by the pandemic, where possible it’s the opportunity to make infrastructure investments that will be sustainable and enablers to meeting longer term climate change and decarbonisation goals.

Understanding the value of orderly transition.
The progressive lessening of COVID-19 restrictions is proving instrumental in safeguarding us and flattening the curve. However, it’s difficult to manage timetables and expectations. Parallels exist with the energy transition. It’s widely accepted that renewable energy is the lowest cost of new energy and is the future of energy transition in a decarbonised world. However, the transition needs to be orchestrated in an orderly way. Managed to ensure we maintain essential services and a “just” transition across communities.

Today is World Environment Day, an international day of environmental awareness. Over recent months, many of us have spent more time in our home surroundings, our gardens, streets and neighbourhoods. With more time to reflect, I hope we have come to better appreciate the importance of our environment and reflect on sustainability and our interaction with our ecosystem.

It’s no coincidence that last week’s issue of The Economist ran a cover page headline, “Seize the moment – The chance to flatten the climate curve.” If we are going to take some of the learnings from this unprecedented pandemic crisis, we’re going to have pivot hard and fast on multiple fronts both globally and within Australia to address climate change and decarbonisation goals over the decades ahead.

Challenging though it may be, we can pivot – and we must!

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3 thoughts on “Let’s “pivot” on climate change and decarbonisation

  1. That pivot must include a revival of our national competitiveness, Ted. To do that industry must have access to scalable, versatile, cheap and reliable energy. Let’s make that the mantra.

    1. I’m sure the Covid-19 recovery commission will also be putting their minds to energy competitiveness – it’s a must as well.

  2. Jonathon Collins

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    Ted, what an insightful way to consider the current agenda for decarbonisation and progress towards the opportunities of addressing climate change. We have heard this new buzzword ‘pivot’ become first nature in how we discuss our BAU, so let’s hope our 2020 pivot heavily involves seizing this ‘moment of pause’ to drive positive impact for our planet. Excellent read.

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