Brisbane

Cities worldwide have huge opportunities to collaborate with the private sector to tackle climate change, according to one of two new reports from the Carbon Disclosure Project.

However, in Australia a barrier to such collaboration is a culture that prevents government and business openly talking, with the private sector “terrified” of speaking to government in case it gets regulated and a public sector “that knows only how to talk formally to the private sector”.

This is just one insight from the CPD reports, which focused on the benefits of collaboration between cities and business, as well as on the many opportunities.

According to the 2016 Global Cities report there were 720 climate change-related projects worth a combined US$26 billion suitable for collaboration with the private sector.

Actions already under way in collaboration included energy-efficiency measures including retrofits, infrastructure for non-motorised transport, low or zero carbon energy generation, waste prevention programs and actions to reduce CO2 emissions from vehicles and improve fuel economy.

Australia was cited as heading in the right direction. Among the top five actions nominated globally were the City of Sydney’s Better Buildings Partnership, the Melbourne Renewable Energy Project, Adelaide’s Building Upgrade Finance and the ACT Government’s Renewable Energy Local Investment Framework.

However, so much more is possible. The report said there were more than 1000  opportunities for cities to collaborate with private enterprise to help reduce carbon emissions and more than 299 cities were looking to develop new industries such as clean tech.

According to Will Symons, head of resilience and sustainability at AECOM Australia and New Zealand, which produced one of the two reports in collaboration with the CDP, It takes a city: The case for collaborative climate action, the lack of private sector engagement is a major issue in Australia.

A big barrier, he said, were the “four pillars” culture of Australian society – private sector, government, civil society and academia – which have a tradition of being siloed.

There is not the same permeability as can be seen in the US, for example, where people routinely shift from one sector to another.

Mr Symons, who is also a 100 Resilient Cities program advisor, said that in many cases his work with the C40 cities found the private sector and public sector parties involved had not actually met each other before.

“The private sector is terrified of talking to government in case it gets regulated. And the public sector only knows how to talk formally to the private sector – usually in terms of consulting about regulation.”

The report found that cities with emissions reduction targets were more likely to be working with business.

Key areas for collaboration were energy efficiency/retrofits, renewable energy and transport.

Maia Kutner, head of cities at CDP, said: “Our report shows that cities do not need to go it alone when it comes to responding to climate change. They are recognising there is power in numbers.

“By partnering with the private sector, cities can not only spur the growth of new markets, they can deliver even greater emissions reductions. Tackling climate change is an enormous business opportunity. The time has come for cities to seize it.”

Collaboration included knowledge sharing, business development, planning policy/permits, project implementation, and financing and incentives.

The most common form of collaboration was knowledge sharing.

“Cities can act as conveners, helping to bring together different stakeholders to work together to create the knowledge needed to respond and adapt to climate change. Sharing knowledge helps cities and companies learn from each other, disseminate best practice, align priorities and coordinate action – and thus deliver greater climate actions at lower cost.”

This is a key barrier to reducing emissions. One thing the C40 has reported, he says, is that “further engagement with the private sector is absolutely critical”.

The market can’t do everything

Mr Symons said tackling climate change was not something that should be left entirely to the market, in the same way that other major human transitions have required public engagement.

He said some of the statements that have been heard around addressing climate change as a threat to profitability raise the questions of “whose profitability?”

There are vested interests with capital invested in carbon-intensive industries that are generally behind these claims.

In some cases, such as the coal dominated La Trobe Valley in Victoria, things can’t just be left to the market to resolve, he said.

“I think there are really legitimate human concerns around this move and transition, like there have been around all major transitions in human history.”

Mr Symons said that what the private sector wants is certainty – clear and agreed rules of the game.

“It will invest on that basis and innovate.”

What needs to happen is a “mature conversation” about how to move to the “new normal” with least cost – human and financial.

New tool released

Mr Symons was also involved in a program with The World Bank, Bloomberg Philanthropies, C40 Cities and AECOM to deliver a new tool for cities to help identify and prioritise actions for climate change.

The CURB tool builds on a proprietary platform developed over several years by AECOM, who handed over the IP to C40 Cities.

The tool provides strategic analysis of the emissions impact of energy use measures and the potential return on investment in terms of emissions reductions of a suite of initiatives already being implemented by cities around the world.

It is also scalable for smaller regional cities, Mr Symons said.

Initially, it will be used by the member cities of the Compact of Mayors, which include the mayors of Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne.

“Cities in Australia and New Zealand have been at the forefront of global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for over 20 years,” Mr Symons said.

“Community expectations regarding information provision, accountability and leadership have steadily increased during this time, with support for climate action higher now than at any time in the last eight years, according to The Climate Institute.”

One of the challenges cities in Australia face, he told The Fifth Estate, is that in many cases they have very little control over the source of CO2 emissions within their municipality.

The City of Melbourne, for example, is one small municipality surrounded by 32 other independent municipalities. The city has no control over how power is generated, gas supplies or transport.

Mr Symons said the tool would assist by showing a city like Melbourne how it can lead and use its role as a “convening power and a convincing power”.

It can create a forum for the city to engage with the other municipalities and also the private sector and regional levels of government, he said.

“The tool provides the technical background for that engagement.”

It also aims to circumvent the lack of data many cities have around key emissions sources.

It incorporates a set of “robust proxies” instead of a lowest common denominator approach, so an inventory can be developed despite data gaps. It also encourages the generation of local data going forwards.

After the inventory stage, the tool provides a series of pre-established actions beyond the “low hanging fruit” that Mr Symons said has already “been picked” in most high capacity cities.

This helps cities navigate the “increasingly technically complex” initiatives that will lead to further reductions in emissions.

From the list, the city then picks what will give “the most bang for the buck”.

Mr Symons said cities are the “key climate change battleground”, particularly given the lack of action at the federal level in many nations.

As cities continue to take action to reduce emissions, “the ability to produce clear business cases for investment becomes increasingly important, as the low or no cost actions have, in many cases, already been implemented,” he said.

  • Access the CURB tool and supporting information here