News from the front desk, Issue 504: Some thoughts on Matt Kean and the PM, from Simon Corbell, and the brave new front of the climate challenge that will appear (streamed live from a television studio) at our Building Circularity symposium.

The race for the White House has slammed into the race for the climate and accelerated it.

There is so much good news and so many initiatives now that the biggest danger is no longer fear of failure, but that we’ll blow a fuse in the excitement and action.

Breath. Centre. Release.

Now back to it.

As we prepare for Building Circularity it’s clear that the big wigs, one after the another, are coming out in support of stronger targets.

The best architects, engineers and related professionals are bringing glimpses into what our built environment will look like – either new or refurbed, five years from now as their most innovative and courageous clients drive a new agenda.

This week we interviewed UNSW Laureate Professor Veena Sahajwalla, director of the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research & Technology, and Caroline Noller from the Footprint Company, in the long form videos that will be made available exclusively for delegates – though highlights will be shared with all, as usual (hint jump into the ticket machine at Humanitix and make sure you can catch the action, which will come live from a television studio in Mascot).

Noller’s work with the likes of Foster + Partners and BVN points to clients who are starting to ask the hard questions about embodied carbon in the $2 trillion of materials we consume each year. There are multiple data sets around the world on this already and the hard work to organise usable workable inventories is gathering pace, she told us.

Noller says we’re starting to understand that the big savings in carbon are now in the decisions we make with materials we use. Energy efficiency is a great goal but what’s the embodied carbon in a new big kit with 25 years needed for payback or the triple glazed windows or multiple sunshades we’re using? She asks. Big, powerful, challenging questions.

In the broader political and big corporate world, it was like Australia was determined to swing the global climate spotlight from the US to itself.

NSW’s energy minister Matt Kean was first out of the starting blocks after the weekend with a bold energy plan stuffed full of jobs.

Chair of the Clean Energy Investor Group Simon Corbell said investors will be pleased with the Electricity Infrastructure Roadmap.

“This roadmap is a welcome plan for private sector investors, harnessing the power of private markets to accelerate NSW’s renewable energy goals – all through providing policy certainty and distinct market signals,” he said.

The commitment to provide financial mechanisms to support investor certainty, including through Long Term Energy Service Agreements managed by the Energy Corporation of NSW was especially welcome, he said. It delivered on the key ingredients of lower cost of capital for new renewable energy projects, “enabled by long term contractual support”, and this was key, he said.

In conversation with The Fifth Estate, Corbell said this was all a continuation of state-based programs towards a net zero future.

The economic development outcomes in regional areas were particularly welcome.

Key challenge from an investor point of view is to see how these varieties of state based programs align with the broader aspirations  post 2025. And the reforms the Energy Security Board is undertaking.

Also good news was the emphasis on unlocking the grid congestion, creating greater certainty around opportunities for other projects to proceed and reducing the cost of capital, which is a “very, very important outcome.”

Next we had news that Woolworths, the country’s sixth biggest energy consumer, has committed to 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2025. If you were surprised that they are such a big electricity consumer, beaten only by only miners and aluminium smelters, you weren’t alone. 

And there was the doozy of a battle inside the Labor Party, which of course was related to all the above.

The big question is whether Joel Fitzgibbon will succeed in overthrowing the Labor leadership because of his commitment to coal, which he somehow thinks will lead the ALP to victory at the next election. (We’re not being facetious: this was actually the take from some media quarters.)

A brilliant cartoon in the SMH today had a minor musing about how he needed to reskill and retool for the future, but Fitzgibbon urging him not to. Why? “Because that’s all I know,” was the answer.

We think the writing on the wall just turned a deep jade.

There are now people rightfully suggesting Fitzgibbon could do well to switch camps.

These political tensions are not isolated. They will be like seismic ripples going all the way through the parliamentary hill, wobbling the very foundations of even such a low profiled groundscraper, all the way to the PMO.

Australia now faces an export market where 70 per cent of its trading partners are committed to net zero targets. And that’s before Joe Biden takes up his new job in the US. After that, what would you call it? A landslide, an avalanche, of net zeros?

Already business has signalled it’s not waiting around and before long our exporters could possibly face tariffs by default, by way of a carbon excise on Australia for being the dragon in the dungeon.

PM Scott Morrison got a taste of that potential pain if he bothered to tune into ABC radio recent listening to exporters angry with the government because their wine was no longer wanted by China and live lobsters had to be destroyed on Chinese docks because Australia is on the nose there.

Imagine if most other exports get slapped with a carbon tax.

Now that would be ironic, right?

But you have to have some sympathy for Morrison; he faces zealots in his party that must be needling him something terrible.

It’s hard not to equate them to that image of that prayer meeting by the US President Defunct’s spiritual adviser that looked more like an incantation to devil worshippers than anything remotely this side of sane (check it out, but bring something to steady your nerves).

Simon Corbell, who is also chief adviser to Energy Estates, agreed that things are changing.

“What’s really clear is that the pace of change is accelerating. Investor sentiment, public sentiment, is moving very quickly towards the importance of a rapid shift to clean energy and that’s backed up by the economics of programs.

“What we see from the NSW government is the latest iterations of a sub-national government approach to accelerating renewable energy development in Australia.”

Most recently, Corbell notes, is we’ve just seen the newly returned Queensland government appoint Australia’s first minister for hydrogen with Mick De Brenni.

“Now, that’s a really clear statement of how important that government sees a zero emissions fuel.”

Corbell can see that within the Coalition there is “tacit and even overt support for clean energy net zero future is growth, and you can see that with the government focus on support for hydrogen.”

They are clearly subject to internal tension themselves on these matters, he says, but what’s really encouraging is the emergence of a more moderate Liberal voice that is trying to emphasise a market based response to these challenges. Like the Matt Kean in NSW, like the Blueprint Institute.

“The more moderate side of the Liberal party is finding its voice again.

“These are difficult issues for our society to work through but I’m more confident and more hopeful now than in the last couple of years because of the momentum I’ve see across the left and the right side of politics.”

Hear, hear!