It’s a war out there…and there’s money to be made

by Tina Perinotto

13 August 2009 – Walking into his new job on Tuesday was Peter Briggs, one of Australia’s leading environmental lawyers, to take up a partnership with Freehills, after around 10 years at Clayton Utz, also as partner.

It’s a sign of the times. In the middle of the GFC, while law firms and accountants quietly hemorrhage staff connected to the old economy, in the green economy they’re hiring.

The very same economy that the some Opposition members are trying to hold back with all their might.

Whatever its timing and eventual shape, the carbon pollution reduction scheme is now a certainty. Business at the top end is starting to slowly understand that the implications will be huge. And they need advice.

By default, as our writer James Paton has discovered in his story Kevin Rudd has handed the big law firms and accountants their very own stimulus package.

PKF partner Tony Rose told The Fifth Estate in a recent interview that for some businesses the impact will be bigger than the GST.

“The CPRS is the biggest change in the tax environment in this country since the GST,” Rose says.

“If the price is fixed at $5 a tonne that’s $5 billion in Year 1. In year 2, 3 or 4 when it floats and it’s a commodity people are saying it could be $50 or $100 [a tonne] so that’s 20 or 30 billion dollars and business has to pay that. It’s a tax.

“You’ve got to account for how much [carbon] you want to put up the chimney. You’ve got to have a process – that’s where the engineers get involved.

“And once they’ve done that it’s all about counting it and measuring it and recording it.”

Which is where the accountants get involved.

PKF’, which has about 1000 people Australia wide, has a team of 20 working on CPRS issues, bigger companies have up to 100 people, he says.

“We’ll do the financial modelling and checking if people are keeping proper records. Clients need to know this is a new law and this is how you comply with it.”

Unlike the GST, though, the CPRS will have a very uneven impact.

An office based in Hobart won’t be affected much because electricity in Tasmania is from hydro energy.

Rose’s client who makes aluminium windows, however, will be much more impacted. As will his developer and property clients using steel and concrete and other carbon intensive building materials.

This all means new contracts and new prices to negotiate. And that’s where the law firms come in.

Of course on the legal front, lawyers are also gearing up for a whole range of work stemming from the domino effect of climate change, as well as broader environmental issues such as  contamination issues.

Energy

Also making a big splash in this issue of TFE is Lynne Blundell’s insight into the energy sector itself through the eyes of possibly Australia’s leading expert in the field, Alan Pears.

Pears, it seems, is furious that the very same energy ministers and regulators who are so focused on the health of the energy suppliers, at the expense of the bigger energy picture.

Blundell also looks at how developers interested in installing cogeneration and trigeneration energy plants are being hamstrung by the bureaucracies that control the grids.

She also reveals some of the work that Bruce Taper from Kinesis has been doing since he left the NSW government.

War talk in Canberra … or it should be

Biggest event in town this week – Canberra actually –  was BEMP, the Built Environment Meets Parliament on Wednesday (12 August).

Think of it as a mega-lobbying cartel for the built environment, bringing together the engineers, architects, planners, and the green building and property councils together with some of the leading politicians in the country.

On their home turf.

The potential was huge.

Just some of the speakers from the political side included: Peter Garrett, Lindsay Tanner, Kim Carr, Tanya Plibersek, Bruce Billson, Mark Dreyfus, Greg Hunt,  Senator Scott Ludlam and Sharan Burrow.

Representing the built environment were: David Atkin, CEO Cbus; Kerry Barwise, director, The Allen Consulting Group;  John Connor, CEO, The Climate Institute; Brendan Gleeson Director, Urban Research Program, Grif?th University; Don Henry, executive director, Australian Conservation Foundation; Sue Holliday, Chair, Built Environment Industry Innovation Council.

Among many others.

There were some great signs that finally Canberra was taking the urban world most of us live in seriously.

Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, gave an impressive show of such anyway – rolling off a litany of funding commitments and policy changes that the government has been working on. See his speech here.

The big announcement for the day was that there would be Built Environment Sustainability Round Table, between government and industry. A great breakthrough.

What’s also interesting is that after much dismay on how slowly Rudd Government has been moving on climate change issues, the list of programs and policies that have been implemented is starting to look more encouraging.

There’s the CPRS, mandatory disclosure on commercial buildings,  six star energy ratings for housing, energy efficiency strategies, investment in rail transport, green home loans and the schools building fund with a call, if not always a response, to high levels of sustainability.

Government bureaucrats quipped during the conference breaks that they had never worked so hard.

With the wide range of programs, it’s as if the idea of climate change action is being quietly embedded everywhere from businesses to ordinary householders.

Pretty handy if you think tackling climate change means going onto a kind of war footing. Which perhaps it should.

As Romily Madew of the Green Building Council pointed out, cities account for 75 per cent of greenhouse emissions.

This means cities are the front line in the battle for our future habitat, and it’s is a battle that needs to be co-ordinated, planned, resourced and financed, no less and far more than any past conflicts.

Instead of military hardware, the key defence is sustainability of our cities where the majority of humanity will continue to gather.

Think smaller sustainable precincts, distributed energy and water management, greening of the  streets, turning bio-waste into on-site compost to grow urban food. Think public transport that works and is cheap, and integrated housing, commercial and industrial planning policies.

The pressures are not just from climate change, but from too many people in the one place, peak oil, spoiling of natural resources, the economic pressures (and fallout) of rabid capitalism, poverty and exploitation.

The blurb for BEMP acknowledges the urgency: “We are living through unprecedented times with global economic uncertainty and threats to our natural environment…”

Time to mobilise.

In the words of Lou Reed, There is no Time.

We’ll post more highlights from BEMP soon.