ClimateWorks Australia chief executive officer Anna Skarbek

It’s action stations in the fight against dangerous climate change and Melbourne-based think tank ClimateWorks Australia is growing its ranks to tackle this increasingly urgent challenge.

Sometimes described as a “think-and-do-tank”, the not-for-profit research organisation that sits within the Monash Sustainable Development Institute has rejigged its internal structure to align with the climate action priority areas of the next 10 years. 

“The next decade needs to be a transformational decade,” ClimateWorks Australia chief executive officer Anna Skarbek told The Fifth Estate

“The UN has identified that we need to see a fivefold increase in climate action this decade, so we embedded that into our strategy that the board adopted in late 2019.”

The 60-person organisation is boosting its capabilities across seven teams, some of them new, representing the four physical systems of the economy that generate emission – cities, industry, energy and food, land and oceans – and the three “enablers” for reducing them – sustainable finance, sustainable corporates and sustainable economies.

Skarbek says the organisation has always worked across the seven areas but the new team structure, each with a dedicated lead, will help drive systemic change both locally and globally.  

“We want to look for the systemic interventions that embed lasting action to decarbonisation.”

As the think tank relies on philanthropic funding, its work has traditionally followed the funding. Skarbek says the new strategic plan should see funding flow across the organisation more evenly so that no sectors get left behind. 

Provided the funding comes in, Skarbek hopes to see the Southeast Asia program grow. It currently has three staff in Jakarta but hopes to expand its presence in this important region, starting with Indonesia. 

Transport a focus

Skarbek stresses that every sector needs urgent attention to decarbonise, but that transport will be a focus for 2021, which represents close to a fifth of Australia’s emissions and is showing no signs of slowing.

The federal government’s electric vehicle strategy was leaked to the ABC on Tuesday, which experts have already criticised for lacking ambition. Funding for charging infrastructure was flagged in the leaked discussion paper but there was no mention of financial incentives to encourage motorist to buy an EV or a target for sales. 

The think tank has also poured a lot of energy into land and heavy industry, which had previously received scant attention from other groups supporting the clean energy transitions. These sectors, some of which are notoriously difficult to decarbonise such as the manufacturing sector, will remain a priority, she says.

The outlook for 2021 is more positive than anticipated

Overall, Skarbek is feeling more positive in the closing chapter of 2020 than she expected. 

The good news is that the companies decarbonisation pathways series has shown that every sector has the technology is needs to get to net zero, including the built environment

Technology has also shown to outperform once it has the market momentum it needs to keep it going. 

“I have more hope that market momentum can keep it going. There’s already consumer sentiment, where they do prefer a carbon neutral option, and the there’s a net zero emission option in every sector.

“So the task now is to normalise it, and make it widespread. That will take some proactive buyer and policy settings in the coming few years.”

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