Australia’s signing of the Paris Agreement at the end of April was an historic event. It is the first time the world has struck an accord on one of the greatest global challenges of our time – climate change.
There were 175 parties (174 countries and the European Union) who signed up to the Paris Agreement on climate change during a ceremony at the UN’s New York Headquarters, far exceeding the historical record for first-day signatures to an international agreement.
The signing of the Paris Agreement comes at a time when planetary temperatures and climate impacts are being felt across the globe. March was the warmest month ever, following 11 straight months of record global temperatures. One of the worst droughts ever experienced has hit eastern and southern Africa, 93 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef has been bleached as a result of warming sea temperatures, and Greenland’s ice sheet is undergoing dramatic early-season melting, to name just a few of the climate impacts already taking place.
The path forward is clear for all businesses, supply chains and investment portfolios. We must achieve net zero emissions by the middle of the century, build resilience against the climate impacts we will inevitably face, and put in place measures to ensure global financial systems move rapidly towards financing low and zero energy and climate-resilient investments.
Smart businesses are recognising the opportunity this presents and signing up to science-based greenhouse gas emission targets. These companies have begun their own transition toward net zero emissions, the use of renewable energy, deploying innovative low-carbon technologies, sustainably sourcing resources, and much more.
In Australia, Bank Australia, Infigen Energy, Origin Energy, Teachers Mutual and Westpac are among those who have committed to setting science-based targets for reducing their greenhouse gas pollution.
Just last week, Investa pledged its commitment to reducing its emissions, which is a first for an Australian property company. There are many more Australian companies yet to make public announcements that are working hard to assess their businesses against a science-based pollution reduction target.
But these businesses can’t do it alone. Current market and regulatory conditions in Australia need to be far more ambitious to drive the required changes towards net zero carbon pollution, and to create an environment that provides incentives for innovation and risk taking.
With greater clarity on the direction of travel and a consistent policy framework, companies will play a major role in closing the emissions gap left by country commitments, and as such they can be the best partners for governments to deliver their ambitious pollution reduction targets.
By making a commitment to achieving 100 per cent renewable electricity in Australia by 2030 and net zero emissions before 2050, the next Australian federal government can create the right conditions for Australia’s next boom – one driven by innovation and clean, green technology.
Australia has much to gain from participating in the net zero carbon economy, and much to lose if we don’t step up to the plate to meet our climate challenges head on. We hope that the signing of the Paris Agreement, and the commitments made by the above-mentioned companies, provides the momentum we need for a race to the top in Australia on climate policy.
Monica Richter is business engagement manager climate change at WWF.