Helen Millicer recalls the “enthusiasm toward sustainability and climate change actions during the Millennium drought and then with election of Rudd in 2007…We were on wave of discussion, new ideas, training, and integration.” What happened?

Australia has over 4000 associations representing and providing leadership and guidance to their members. Or do they?

From industry, business and professionals to communities and individuals, associations cover every activity and part of this country. From pharmacists, hairdressers and farmers, to retailers and sports clubs, we have associations bringing people together, planning and engaging in activities.

Associations are unique and quietly powerful in their reach and influence.

Associations organise, earn membership fees, provide information and represent their members. However, in the important and urgent realm of climate change and emissions reduction, the vast majority appear largely uninformed of impacts, their responsibilities and are silent on actions.

This is far from what is needed. This is actually high risk and ultimately endangering these associations, their members and our collective capacity to adjust and to meet the increasingly urgent challenges of this decade to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Time to power up civil society

There are four sectors that create our civil society and influence our future: government, business, individuals and associations. Associations provide crucial networks, however, of the four sectors they are the least engaged and active on climate change and cutting emissions.

Governments have been the primary focus given their crucial role and power. We have invested mountains of energy and analysis into forming policies, strategies, legislations, targets and financial arrangements, and we are finally seeing some outstanding leadership and results.

Businesses are also grasping the urgency and opportunities. From large to powerful to nimble, businesses have engaged experts, invested in renewable energy, efficiencies, new business units, joint ventures and even created innovative schemes like green bonds. Some of the initiatives are breathtakingly big and far reaching.

We also have communities and individuals investing their own efforts and funds, uniting to form new groups and campaigns. From building nine star homes, buying EVs to forming mini-grids and climate action groups. They have often formed new groups filling the void of absent or silent associations.

But all this is still not sufficient, and the race to 2030 is on.

It is high time our associations stepped forward out of the silent shadows and engage, transform and become the leaders we need in all corners of our society.

Why the silence?

There a three key reasons why the vast majority of our associations have been silent for so long.

I recall the enthusiasm toward sustainability and climate change actions during the Millennium drought and then with election of Rudd in 2007. The Clean Energy Future program engaged many industry associations on energy efficiency, emission reduction and impacts of climate change. We were on wave of discussion, new ideas, training, and integration.

The poisonous political battlefield grew to such proportions that many in associations, business and society withdrew in order to restore peace in boardrooms around the country.

Positive momentum was lost, replaced by misinformation and confusion.

However, the poisonous political battlefield grew to such proportions that many in associations, business and society withdrew in order to restore peace in boardrooms around the country.

Positive momentum was lost, replaced by misinformation and confusion.

While thankfully and sensibly, the political battles have diminished, the momentum within associations is yet to recover.

Two other reasons for the silence within associations is the fact that almost all are unaware of the potential mighty impacts of climate change upon their operations and members, and they lack knowledge and resources to make easy adjustments to their operations and activities.

Most have no idea of their legal liabilities, the financial impacts, the risks, opportunities or even the best sources of information or courses of action to cut their emissions and support members.

Currently there is a tiny handful of associations that are well informed and active on climate change and emissions. They fall into two camps: those whose members are high emitters and have campaigned to preserve the status quo like the Minerals Council of Australia, and those that are keen like Australian Industry Group for a more progressive, new economy with a new paradigm that includes environmental protection.

Helen Millicer

Thankfully the anti-climate warriors are gradually falling silent, and governments of all colours, communities and businesses are surging forward. But associations are the one sector in which the majority are still out in the dark and the cold.

Helen Millicer is part of a group trying to gather people with the  capacity, skills and reputation to improve the performance of associations. She is a Churchill Fellow, director of One Planet Consulting and is active on a number of boards and industry initiatives.