Emma Herd

Emma Herd has snared one of Australian sustainability’s plum jobs, landing a role with EY as partner, climate change and sustainability. It’s a role that was in part filled by Matthew Bell before he headed off back to London to be UK and Ireland climate change and sustainability services leader.

Herd was chief executive officer of the Investor Group on Climate Change for six years and previously held long term sustainability related roles at Westpac.

So what kind of work will she do at EY? Pretty much the same, but probably with the benefit of even more attentive ears from client stakeholders who range across all tiers of government and leading businesses and like to use the big consultants to guide their strategies.

Herd told The Fifth Estate on Friday afternoon she had “the same kind of mandate of pushing and striving for climate action, across the corporate sector and government, but from a different angle.”

She would be giving advice “across the whole spectrum”.

Asked what issues she expected would most occupy her time, Herd said these would be broad indeed, with no shortage of topics –  “whether it’s understanding what decarbonisation pathways look like, working with industry to set implementation strategies or financial risks and disclosure requirements”.

As to what might be heading up concerns for the federal government as we move toward the next COP at the end of the year, that was a similarly full agenda, she said. On how the carbon border tax proposed by a growing number of countries would be received, Herd said, “even the idea has an impact.”

It was yet another sign the world is moving into a new carbon focused economy “where carbon performance matters for economic performance”. Governments were conscious of this and thinking how best to plan for the transition, especially states and especially with their work on energy. There were long term strategies in play around the 2030 targets as part of the “review and ratchet processes and opportunities around the safeguard mechanism.”

Herd said, expect to see more focus in the coming budget on these issues, especially around risk and resilience.

On what The Fifth Estate is now starting to dub the Greenwash Police, Herd could see more work from regulators around disclosure and labelling in the financial services sector with work coming out of Europe “really starting to push through” and US regulators also starting to call out dishonest conduct.

There was a growing focus on “calling out greenwashing and spin” and at the same time a “focus on transition as a key thematic” leading to the two competing trends of some companies turning themselves inside out to improve and others facing huge scrutiny around claims and the need to be open and transparent.

No more pulling the green wool over stakeholders. Perhaps. Let’s hope so.

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