Mike Cannon-Brookes RE100
Mike Cannon-Brookes interviewed by Jon Dee.

How do you put a rocket under the push to transition Australia’s economy and leading corporates to renewable energy?

First you get Atlassian boss Mike Cannon-Brookes on stage at his Sydney headquarters, plus Michael Liebreich who founded Bloomberg New Energy Finance, plus outfits like Ikea and Unilever.

You draw in audience members such as Simon Holmes a Court, some of the big four banks, Lendlease, Dexus, GPT, Bunnings, Coles, Woolworths, ALDI, Bluescope Steel, the Green Building Council of Australia, clean energy champion Tim Buckley plus a good array of other leading companies, many in the property and retail sector. And you get Jon Dee, well known for his media profile and campaigning for environmental issues, to organise the lot through the DoSomething Foundation he runs, and make him the catalyst for the Australian chapter of the RE100 movement.

It’s been hard to think of another night with the same level of excitement and energy (the human kind that generates optimism).

But on Wednesday night, there it was. More than 120 people piled into the Atlassian headquarters on George Street.

But despite the esteemed audience we’re guessing the pulling power of Cannon-Brookes alone was sufficient to add that magic spark to events that ignite momentum.

“At last” said someone in the audience later. “We’ve got our own rock star.”

One of the originals in our book is Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England. He’s the man that first shook up the corporate/financial world. We’ve had others of course but they’ve been pitched at the grass roots motivators, the groundswell of humanity now rising up around the planet to demand action, and to be truthful, light a fire under the corporates whose clever marketing folk can sense the urgency and imperatives of moving with their core stakeholders. And pronto.

Carney, by the way, starred at another event this week in Melbourne, courtesy of the Climate Alliance for its 10th annual national conference. But instead of fronting up in person he sent a pre-recorded video.

It was “a more carbon efficient way to communicate,” he said. See our coverage this week.

In Sydney, Jon Dee introduced his gig as the second “meeting” of Australia’s RE100 campaign dedicated to encouraging the biggest companies in the world to declare they will transition to 100 per cent renewable energy. Some by 2030, increasingly by 2025 and even sooner.

Today RE100 has 211 companies globally signed up to go 100 per cent renewable, including the big four Australian banks.

According to Cannon-Brookes the members in Australia account for roughly a massive third of the capitalisation of the Australian Stock Exchange. Globally some of the true giants of the corporate world have come aboard: Google, Apple, Mars, Swiss Re, Allianz, Accenture, Adobe, Lego, Microsoft, Sekisui and Walmart.

But as someone pointed out during the evening, the people in the room were likewise impressive. Not just “someone” from XYZ, but the very senior people from these companies.

Dee exhorted those in the audience still mulling their commitment on the sidelines to jump in. They were in the room, he said, and clearly thinking about it.

By Thursday he said he’d had many texts and messages from people keen to explore the opportunities.

Cannon-Brookes, when he took to the stage, did not disappoint.

He threw around strands from his latest Twitter threads, famous for their ability to prod and agitate the powers that be. But also for their weighty ability to call on assistance from very well placed friends to do things like provide a massive battery for South Australia. (Thanks, Elon Musk!).

Cannon-Brookes mentioned too a Twitter stoush that day about the exact number that related to Australia’s contribution to emissions globally, a number used by mealy-mouthed pollies to squib on doing anything about our contribution to climate action.

But regardless of whether the correct number is 5 per cent or 4.8 per cent as ABC’s fact check service corroborated, Australia’s proportion of total population is 0.33 per cent, making a mockery of our “modest” contribution. Cannon-Brookes says the same thinking was not applied to Australia’s overall contribution to fighting World War 1 or 2.

The ABC’s fact check, by the way, relates to “emissions from fossil fuel combustion — excluding land-use changes and agriculture among other things” and counting Australia’s “domestic fossil fuel emissions plus emissions from its fossil fuel exports”.

The Atlassian boss was also happy to share details of the announcement that day that none other than Western Australia’s mining magnate “Twiggy” Forrest was chipping in to fund the massive Sun Cable project, for a solar farm in the Northern Territory to supply electricity to Singapore.

The project’s stage one was now fully funded and had the potential to become a $22 billion project with 10 gigawatt capacity and 22GW-hour storage, he said – and yes, about 150 times bigger than the South Australian battery he helped get going. See more details about Sun Cable in The SMH.

Forrest said Australia had the potential to be at the “centre of our region’s transition to clean energy”.

Among some of the insights shared by Cannon-Brookes were that joining RE100 made sense for the business.

There were a lot of reasons Atlassian joined, he said. “We’re long term thinkers… it’s not just ecological reasons, it’s in a business sense. It’s hard to think long term in business without considering the impact on people and the planet.

“We’re also capital efficient, and that’s part of it.”

Another big reason that’s “under-mentioned” is “the war for talent.”

“Internally it’s been incredibly well received and we’ve taken steps well beyond RE100.”

The plan is to go 100 per cent renewable by 2025 in seven countries, but the target is likely to be reached well before, he said.

“We will beat the 2025 date. We intend to beat it significantly.”

Part of that will involve looking at “office usage”. The lease agreements will be under scrutiny and the company will look to work with landlords to see how the transition can be made but if that doesn’t work Atlassian will simply move or build its own “highly sustainable building”.

Michael Liebreich

Michael Liebreich was another highlight. The war on coal was over in the US, under the current pro coal regime, but nevertheless there were no new coal fired power stations being built; instead a growing number of coal bankruptcies, with the most inefficient closing down.

In 20 years coal use would be forced down to zero, he said. The driving trends were energy efficiency and cheap renewable power.

The renewable revolution, he said, “is only just starting”.

A big piece of it would be driven by corporates. But is it possible to relax because we will hit the Paris targets? Not likely, Liebreich said.

The emissions curve will likely flatten but sadly that won’t be enough to stop warming.

To meet the targets “we have to go to net neutrality.”

We’re not going to do that if we keep “chucking out CO2”.

What needs to be done now is “get into the areas that are really difficult: aviation, manufacturing, chemicals, agriculture and land use.”

Electricity use is just 22 per cent of emissions. Heat is a much bigger source, he said.

Why Australia is not a leader in this field is a mystery.

Liebreich said every time he came to Australia it was both a tragedy and a joy. He could see an abundance of talent, natural renewable resources and low cost money thanks to our super scheme. What’s missing is action.

Was he optimistic?

Yes by nature, but a dose of reality was needed. We’re on track to 2.7 degrees warming and with all the best will we might get down to 2 degrees, he said.

It’s not enough.

Monica Richter, project director of the Business Renewables Centre summed up the night in referring to the massive potential versus the intransigence of our public policy on energy with two words: optimism and outrage.

A few people milling about afterwards couldn’t help but repeat those words.

Left to Right: Tim Buckley, Michael Liebreich and Monica Richter

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  1. More of this, thank you. Now there is evidence that the important changes to the world community will come from the private sector. Shame on out governments. Thanks to all these committed people, yes even those with $b’s