Figueres' 90 day deadline for energy leadership

Our head of Public Affairs, Jonathan Cartledge, gleans energy insights from former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres.

Christiana Figueres’ visit to Australia last week coincided with another round of federal policy debate on energy.

Chest-thumping across the federal parliament shifted the headlines to the future of the ageing Liddell Power Station, highlighting once again the urgent need for collective leadership on energy policy. Figueres’ observations and reflections provided a powerful reality check for all those frustrated with what is rapidly becoming politics-as-usual.

The former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, a leader in the delivery of the 2015 Paris Agreement, and current Vice-Chair of the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, Figueres provides a galvanising force for change whether in a room of hundreds or one-on-one.

In an event hosted by the City of Sydney, Sydney Town Hall created something of an echo chamber last Tuesday night as Figueres, Professor John Hewson and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson exchanged sometimes depressing views on the state of the nation.

This discussion underscored Australia’s remarkable ability to secure little progress in what has been well over a decade of energy policy debate. The lost opportunities for jobs, growth and the environment were clear for all to see.

Although it was frustrating to look back on so many years of indecision and politicking, it was hard not to be inspired by the opportunity that still sits in front of us. How to realise this potential dominated the discussion in a more intimate gathering co-hosted with 1 Million Women and the GBCA, with Figueres and senior business leaders on Wednesday night. 

For Figueres it was clear that the next 90 days in Australia present a narrow window of opportunity to arrest and reframe Australia’s energy policy debate; to refocus on supporting market-based policies that deliver a low carbon future in line with our Paris commitments.

Two decisions are critical in this window. The first: federal government’s decision to set a Clean Energy Target (CET) in line with recommendations from the Finkel Review. The second: is how the government responds to AGL’s alternative vision for the Liddell Power Station.

Industry has been clear. Policy that delivers long-term certainty is critical to deliver the government’s stated objectives for security, lower prices and reduced emissions. It is for this reason that business leaders are near unanimous in their support of all the Finkel recommendations. This will provide the certainty industry craves, and will support investment and planning for the long-term.

The meeting between AGL Chief Executive Andy Vesey and the Prime Minister to discuss the future of the Liddell Power Station is a powerful illustration of what happens when that market certainty is missing. An asset by asset approach to energy policy-making highlights the absence of clear market signals. How the government manages Liddell will not affect the global forces already accelerating us towards a low carbon future. But it will affect how government policy takes advantage of those forces to build jobs and economic growth.

The GBCA is an example of how collective industry leadership and collaboration delivers both sustainability and competitive advantage.  Our nearly 700 members, and the stories of their success, unite in one powerful voice to support more ambitious policy that reduces emissions and transforms our built environment. The GBCA’s influence informs the government as it considers the Finkel recommendations, the future of Liddell and the broader review of climate change policies also underway. Our vision for a low carbon future – one that delivers healthy, positive places for people and the natural environment – is supported by practical policy recommendations that leverage existing industry innovation and leadership.

And this is why Figueres’ clarion call for broader, collective leadership is so powerful. 

Figueres is clear that the enormous opportunities waiting to be seized in Australia will not come from top-down political leadership. Instead, it will come through the will and influence brought collectively by individual businesses, industry associations, unions, religious organisations, academia and the broader community. 

All of these groups have a shared interest in policy that helps build a sustainable future. But as Figueres observed, it is only through each investing to effect the full force of their influence that we will see the right decisions taken, rather than the politically expedient. The challenge is left with all of us.

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