The “unreasonable” Cathy Burke, CEO The Hunger Project

On unreasonable people

Some real property heavyweights joined the Green Building Council of Australia board this week.

They were: Tanya Cox, chief operating officer, DEXUS; John Flecker, chief executive, Brookfield Multiplex Australasia; Mark Gray, managing director, Leighton Properties; Rob Sindel, chief executive and managing director, CSR Limited; and Mark Steinert, managing director and chief executive, Stockland.

It’s a good sign. We all know the GFC hammered the industry and along with it many things green. Some of the big companies dropped their commitment to sustainability just a tad, some maybe more. Whatever, the push back could be over.

There’s really no other direction for these companies to head if they want to be on the global radar for investment. Paul Edwards, Mirvac’s group general manager sustainability, made that clear in our recent interview when he pointed out that these companies might be Australian but their investors are from parts of the world where sustainability is taken very seriously.

The signs are getting better.

Stockland, which earlier this year let go of a big chunk of its sustainability staff, is now represented on the GBCA board by the CEO himself, Mark Steinert. That’s a strong signal.

Another good signal is that the company won the coveted 2013-14 industry group leader award for real estate in the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices. So all on eyes will be on its performance for next year.

The New Feds and the great big warming warning

Still, and understandably, there was some despondency inside one of the biggest listed property companies this week that the signals from Canberra were all too negative.

Yes, there is some dreadful news. The Climate Commission, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Climate Change Authority, the Major Cities Unit – all to be axed. The trashing of the Great Barrier Reef, about to start any moment.

But if you need to scratch a bit beneath the headlines another story is starting to emerge.

According to people close to the political circus the New Feds will really struggle to be as destructive as they promised on the environment and climate change.

Erwin Jackson deputy chief executive of the Climate Institute, which has strong links to business, says the story is complex.  There is some good news. He points to the Abbott Government’s promise to push $9 million of funding to climate adaptation and resilience planning.

And there is almost certainly going to be a flow of cash into the property sector from the direct action agenda, which will give a leg up to the retrofit industry.

On the negative he says, the business community is “basically bedeviled with uncertainty. It’s unclear how long it will take for the government to live up to its promises and to repeal carbon law, and what the shape of the carbon policies will be.”

It looks likely the Australian Labor Party and The Greens will oppose the repeal “so that the earliest it could happen is late 2014, even early 2015”.

During that period there is significant legislative changes that will occur.

“The carbon price is set to increase and based on the advice of the Climate Change Authority the setting of emissions limits can change.

“The authority [which also needs legislation to repeal] is due to present a draft report in October and a final report in February and under legislation the government has to respond in May to set a limit on major emission industries and if that doesn’t happen then a default cap sets in, and as it’s set up this would probably be a quite strong.” Expectations are for around 15 per cent.

Jackson says, “They’ve got a bit of tension… Environment Minister Greg Hunt remains committed to emissions reductions target “even moving up to a 20-25 per cent target, depending on what happens in other countries”.

The institute says on its website that in the last days of the election campaign the Coalition gave support to the caretaker ALP government signing on to the Majuro declaration at the Pacific Island Forum.

“This explicitly included the addition to its schedule Australian commitments to action, which included both this target range and the 20 per cent Renewable Energy Target.”

It also obtained a personal letter from Tony Abbott under Freedom of Information laws to the Prime Minister in 2010 outlining his direct support for Australia’s emission targets.

Jackson says that to meet the target it’s possible that the Coalition Government could regulate. Maybe in domestic appliances and cars.

“The Environment Minister would consider vehicle standards on cars; they’ve got a range of levers available.”

Much depends, of course, on how serious the government is about sticking to its policy, despite analysis that says it’s not capable of reaching even the five per cent target.

“They need to be showing their policy can actually deliver.”

The global pressure will be intense

Jackson says a big test for the Government will come in early November in Warsaw when Environment Minister Greg Hunt has to face his international colleagues for the United Nations Climate Change conference. [Updated]

“Will Australia be the first country in the world to dismantle a carbon trading system?” asks Jackson, with the Chinese moving ahead on their systems, many parts of the US doing likewise, and the Americans last week all but banning new coal fired power plants.

The International Panel on Climate Change report due on Friday will reveal almost complete certainty the Earth is in serious trouble.

A report from The Australian Financial Review ahead of the release said the forecasts were for the hottest days to be 6 degrees higher than previously predicted and for sea level rises to be also be higher.

It will be callous in the extreme for the Australian Government to ignore these warnings.

This will be just one of element in what Jackson says is a “range of movements playing out internationally” that is going to make it very challenging for the government to keep to its political line.

We can only hope.

There is a “range of movements” playing out everywhere you look these days.

NSW for instance.

NSW takes a stand

Interesting to see NSW standing firm on environmental and planning standards against the New Feds who are trying to fast track coal seam gas in the state.

NSW Resources Minister Chris Hartcher said on Thursday that he wasn’t worried about shortages of gas, as spruiked by federal Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane.

“We’ve got huge amounts of gas,” Hartcher told the ABC website.

“The issue is getting it out of the ground and the issue is making sure it is affordable,” he said, alluding to the thinking that CSG is cheap to extract at first but very quickly gets quite expensive and difficult.

The New Feds want NSW to emulate Queensland on this score.

But Hartcher said that though he is “happy to work with the Commonwealth to encourage more CSG investment, the state will not weaken its rules”.

“We will not be altering in this state our protective framework, that we regard as non-negotiable,” Mr Hartcher said.

“The regulatory framework is here. The regulatory framework stays.”

Hmmm. Nice one Mr Hartcher.

Maybe thank the 5000 responses received to the state’s proposed planning reforms for a growing sense of respect for the community.

Whatever it is, it’s smart politics.

Now for the really powerful movement: glocalization

Which brings us to another interesting view of government, the one at the community level – let’s call them The New Locals.

It’s worth reading an interesting article from the Atlantic Cities that argues that nation states have failed in climate change and abdicating their responsibilities over the big problems.

Cities have started to say, “Screw what they’re doing at the nation-state level, which is nothing,” says Benjamin Barber, author of the forthcoming book, If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities. “We can do something about this locally.”

Rising up out of the humble local government is in fact the power to change everything. Think about the influence the New Locals can have over the built environment. Loads.

Think about the global movements such as the Council of Capital Cities Lord Mayors Australia wide, and the C40s that includes Melbourne and Sydney amid the really big cities.

Proponents of “glocalisation” argue the nation-state has failed. Bruce Katz, the director of the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program and co-author of The Metropolitan Revolution, says, “The federal government has basically sent the signal, ‘We won’t be resolving any of this for the foreseeable future’,… And that’s a somewhat similar story around the world.”

Even stronger pushback comes from the personal

At Simon Carter’s Morphosis Good News Story presentation on Monday in Sydney, Cathy Burke, chief executive of The Hunger Project, demonstrated what some short training programs can do for people in impoverished and desperate situations.

Videos showed women in India, transformed and empowered, not to take up arms or protest in the streets but to quietly and persistently ask for the rights that were already enshrined in the system, but which prejudice and ignorance kept them from accessing.

A wonderful comment from Burke, borrowed from George Bernard Shaw, made an impact – that all progress depends on unreasonable people. Nothing much by way of change is ever achieved by reasonable people, he says.

Burke and The Hunger Project are unreasonable. They ask for investors to put in $5000. The payback, they say, is one of the most valuable you will receive in your lifetime.

Watch out, Mr Abbott, for the unreasonable people of Australia who are concerned with climate and our Earth.