Despite Trump, things are looking up on climate action Opinion articles

Nov 22, 2016 - 4:53pm

This article was originally published in Crikey on Tuesday 22 November 2016.

John Connor   
CEO, The Climate Institute

After Trumpian shocks swept through the dusty gardens and tent halls of the Marrakech climate meeting - the first since last year’s ground-breaking gathering in Paris - some pathways forward revealed themselves.

It was far from perfect, but in Marrakech we saw nations choose engagement rather than withdrawal. Corporations and investors took actions demonstrating a longer term view of their responsibility and economic interests. Cities and states, with clearer mandates for climate action, also engaged and shared progress.

The Turnbull government’s swift ratification of the Paris Agreement made clear it saw Australia’s national interest best protected by collective climate action under the agreement. Others, like the UK conservative government, ratified as well. China saw economic and diplomatic leadership opportunities, should America vacate the stage, but called on them to remain involved. All nations supported the Moroccan Action Proclamation backing the Paris Agreement and its ambitious goals.

A significant step in the transition to a net zero emissions and more climate resilient global economy was taken through the launch of a 2050 pathways platform. Germany, Canada, Mexico and the US formally lodged 2050 plans aligned with the Paris commitments. Others promised to do the same including Costa Rica, Peru, UK, Marshall Islands, Sweden, European Commission, Norway, Italy, New Zealand, Japan, Ethiopia and France. Many cities, states and businesses that are also doing so under various initiatives, were in Marrakech to share their experience. This platform will enhance these mutual discussions.

Australia will consider its post-2030 emissions strategies next year and can draw on these experiences, should it choose to do so.

Informed by a longer term interpretation of corporate health and responsibility, which is often prompted by shareholder actions, companies are beginning to stress test their business models and plot emission reduction pathways for the transition required. Global brands like Walmart, Kellog’s and Mars announced new plans. BHP, Westpac, AGL and other Australian firms are developing such plans. These plans are evolving and require improvement. However, it’s an important new alignment to which they, like nations under the Paris Agreement, are holding themselves up for scrutiny from citizens, shareholders and investors.

Investors, who hold trillions of dollars of capital,are beginning to align longer term responsibilities and climate realities with investment decisions and engagement with investee companies. Like shareholder actions, trustees governing superannuation funds are being pushed to take action by individual members joining campaigns such as Investors at Marrakech highlighted how companies and countries seeking capital are increasingly being required to show their climate or sustainable development credentials.

These actions are assisted by ever more affordable clean technology alternatives. And by a clearer sense of co-benefits of action, including reduced air pollution, improved public health and minimised disaster exposure. The clarity of common purpose in the Paris Agreement’s objective of growing a global economy with net zero emissions, increasingly focused around 2050, is a rallying point for action.

All this is no excuse for not taking significantly stronger actions, but these are positive trends that should not be ignored.

However history tells us we are going to need to do more if we are to avoid growing the ranks of the marginalised, and more to inspire a sense of inclusion in this transformative modernisation and decarbonisation project.

At Marrakech, for the first time, the global labour movement and business joined a technical expert group to consider economic diversity, transformation and just transition measures. Most unions and welfare groups acknowledge this transition is necessary. But they have rarely been appropriately drafted or resourced to actively assist in maximising opportunities and assisting vulnerable communities to prepare well ahead of necessary changes. This has to change.

We also need to be opening doors to enable more individuals to have a richer sense of inclusion. The great wave of clean air, clean water and planning reforms of the 60s and 70s were accompanied by expanded opportunities for civic engagement. People were actively enabled to participate and enforce public duties and the reforms were well supported. Now governments are seeking to close down such opportunities, restricting standing in courts, amalgamating local councils and removing many laws altogether.

There were plenty of fighting words amongst activists as they regained their mojo. That’s good. But, with progress so urgent, we need bridge builders from business, community and politics engaging with inclusive strategies. If we don’t put people first and enable engagement and dialogue with public policy, corporate directions and investor decision-making, we’ll just be building more walls and roadblocks. We’ll just marginalise more and reinforce reactionary instincts. We just don’t have time for that.

In Marrakech there were signs of pathways forward and of participants taking positive steps down them. They need to stride on, whatever President Trump decides to do.

John Connor

John Connor was CEO of The Climate Institute from 2007 to March 2017. Whilst qualified as a lawyer, John has spent over twenty years working in a variety of policy and advocacy roles with organisations including World Vision, Make Poverty History, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the NSW Nature Conservation Council. Since joining The Climate Institute in 2007 John has been a leading analyst and commentator on the rollercoaster that has been Australia’s domestic and international carbon policy and overseen the Institute’s additional focus on institutional investors and climate risk. John has also worked on numerous government and business advisory panels.

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