John Connor

Mary Stewart who heads up Energetics thinks we could be in for a boom in energy efficiency and the entire range of renewable energy transition and sustainability – both in technology and the people skilled to help.

Other business leaders predicted “stunning” green investment opportunities with the new government opening the gateway for a “massive flow of institutional capital into Australia’s power and industrial sector to achieve decarbonisation goals”

What we have now at long last [and after nearly a decade or more of fierce adversarial residence to climate action] is certainty said Quinbrook Infrastructure Partners.

This company won’t be alone. There are plenty of frustrated but well heeled  investors with a big appetite to help in the renewable energy, low carbon transition and on Saturday they got a green light.

They now have a juicy target of 80 per cent renewables by 2030 which means Australia’s and a 43 per cent emissions reduction by 2030 baked into the new Albanese government.

“Renewable energy generation will need to be tripled in just eight years” Quninbrook said.

Last week we attended an upbeat panel of enthusiastic government and industry leaders from Bluescope, InfraBuild, Holcim, Boral at a MECLA (Materials & Embodied Carbon Leaders’ Alliance) event.

Just a year after kicking off, this little powerhouse of sustainability that wants to dramatically reduce embodied carbon in materials, has 120 members and was already of powering ahead on steroids.

It’s a really tough ask but the group’s founders Monica Richter of WWF and Hudson Worley of PreSync better get set for a sharp uptake in action. The election on Saturday would have given this crowd a big dose of rocket fuelled propulsion.

The downside is that the warnings that Mary Stewart issued in our interview with her on Tuesday. This surge of demand, interest and innovation will inevitably create even bigger shortages in technology and people skills. And we’ve already seen a significant shortfalls in the latter.

Step back a little and you can see that the surge of demand for a more sustainable built environment will spill over into several other sectors, from manufacturing to low carbon transport and better urban planning.

The big institutional investors are apparently eyeing off even the potential of green exports, in energy in particular;  because the demand from global interests will be much bigger than any the domestic market could hope to bring to the party.

But nothing is ever easy; a Disneyland walk in the park. Especially for this volatile low carbon transition we are now in the midst of.

John Connor chief executive of the Carbon Markets Institute reminded The Fifth Estate on Tuesday that many of us have seen this movie before.

There’s been derailment of a big enthusiastic sustainability agenda going back to 2007 coming from the Minerals Council and the Nationals, Connor points out.

But also from the surge in manipulative anti-climate spin from the Heartland Institute in the US and its buddies in the Institute of Public Affairs in Australia, with a big dose of funding from Gina Rinehart – funding streams well documented especially by George Monbiot from The Guardian UK and Graham Readfearn in Australia.

Perhaps the biggest spokes in the wheels of climate progress came when the Murdoch press saw there was money in dissent and scepticism. Watch the early nastiness already emerge from that dark pool of negativity. On second thoughts, best to avert your eyes – and anyway we guess they are speaking to a shrinking minority now.

After Saturday’s vote, Connor says, there’s never been a stronger parliament for climate action.

There will be a debate on targets – “their target is bigger than mine” – kind of thing, but key, he says is to have the institutions and policies in place to make sure we can “look to a 50 per cent emissions reductions by 2030”.

(One hundred per cent is a “very big ask” he says.)

“What’s needed is that in the life of this government we should scale up to …set institutions and policies to accelerate decarbonisation to get to at least 70 per cent by 2035 and 90 per cent by 2040 – and see how we can improve on those”.

What’s important, is that “all these policies are investable and durable and that also means investing inclusive transition.” The people in the Hunter and Gladstone regions are “real people; real communities”.

A big positive is the Business Council of Australia pitching for 50 per cent emissions reduction by 2050 and broad business acceptance of this.

“Plus a carbon scare campaign that didn’t draw blood in the campaign.”

So where is the negativity likely to come from?

“All these things are a much different dynamic,” he says, “but the transition is going to be hard.” Especially beyond decarbonising the grid.

A difficult part will be the physical challenge of actually persuading and pushing and enabling the tough sectors to seriously reduce emissions reductions, such as industrial which has about one third of emissions and transport and agriculture which are about 15 per cent each.

Some sectors already have emissions increases baked in.

So while “it’s easy to say electrify everything” it’s not so easy to get heavy industry to make the switch.  And it’s why he says the safeguard mechanism is so important.

Here’s what Connor means by this on the Carbon Markets Institute site

“While many would prefer a fuller cap and trade carbon pricing mechanism, the Safeguard Mechanism is the best place to start a policy that provides clearer investment guidance and guardrails for the task of industrial decarbonisation.

“That is why it has been supported by the BCA (Business Council of Australia) and AIG (Australian Industry Group) and many others.? Indeed in our last Australian Climate Policy Survey in 2021, 79 per cent of business supported strengthening the Safeguard Mechanism, and believed mandatory baselines should be set to reduce over time in line with the trajectory of Australia’s 2030 emissions reduction target.

“The current Safeguard Mechanism not only requires large emitting companies to manage and measure their emissions, but also requires some to respond to compliance requirements and purchase additional carbon reductions in the form of Australian Carbon Credit Units.? In fact, there was a 70 per cent increase in that requirement last financial year, with almost half a million ACCUs (419,315) being required to be surrendered.

“Based on the spot price trajectory during this period, and excluding things like direct offtake agreements and forward transactions, that would make for a value of over $15 million on some estimates.

“This is not an insignificant compliance investment requirement and we believe it should also be linked to overall emission reduction goals, including at least 50 per cent emissions reductions for Australia by 2030.”

Another danger and one that is “a bit eerily similar to 2011” he says, where the next round of carbon reforms is staring down the barrell of significantly rising energy prices in oil and gas.

If the politics are mismanaged it could be blamed on various energy reforms instead of the Ukraine and other related issues.

But amidst all this new attention why isn’t the built environment capturing more of the spotlight?

Mike Cannon-Brookes for instance, told The Fifth Estate at a press conference after a talk at the Powerhouse Museum on Friday that no, he was not interested to direct some of his halo effect to the built environment – clean energy was his commitment.

We know this renewable energy super hero needs to pick his battles, like all of us, but why doesn’t the built environment collect more champions?

“It’s not sexy,” Connor says.

This is where “sensible leadership” can bring some joy. Perhaps aligning with the good work some states have done in some areas.

And a challenge for all of us who think the built environment is the sexiest thing on the planet!

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  1. …why doesn’t the built environment collect more champions?….Well not only is it not sexy its also very carbon positive, just constructing a modest 2 bedroom house produces 80 Tonne of CO2e and that’s just the start because that house will need infrastructure , the occupants will need employment , food, energy , education etc all of which looks great for GDP but not for our carbon footprint.

  2. Super easy start – mandate zero emissions for the National Construction Code. This would guarantee that ALL new buildings Have solar or are buying only renewable energy AND for homes the net zero home is IMMEDIATELY MORE AFFORDABLE for the new homeowner. There’s simply no excuse!!