The first year of this decade will be remembered as one of the most challenging of our time. Yet 2020 brought a significant shift in climate action, and solutions. The team at ClimateWorks have 2021 pinned as a year with much to be hopeful about.

It’s difficult to imagine we could go into 2021 with optimism, but despite its challenges, 2020 signalled a significant shift in global momentum to halt climate change – unlike anything we have seen before. 

‘Net zero is normalising,’ ClimateWorks CEO Anna Skarbek says when asked what she’s optimistic about for 2021. She points to the commitments made publicly from nations like China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, as well as by sectors, companies and financial institutions.

‘The pandemic has seen a silver lining for climate action. Green recovery has become a theme of some economic stimulus and recovery investments. The European Union’s Green New Deal is already attracting investors wanting to access the concessionary capital at that scale. The scale of COVID-recovery stimulus injections actually give the ambitious 1.5 degree aligned all-in ask from our Decarbonisation Futures research a chance of happening.

‘Sentiment is shifting also, with Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance investing outperforming all Australian sectors in 2020. At the same time central bankers, for example through ASEAN and the Network for Greening the Financial System, continue to progress their work on climate risk.’

Anna Malos, ClimateWorks’ country lead for Australia agrees. ‘I have never seen such momentum for change in the private sector – in Australia and globally.  State and territory governments are also stepping up in a way I haven’t seen for more than a decade – and this time their actions are far more comprehensive.

‘Add this to the growing recognition of the opportunities from the zero carbon economy – renewable energy, electric vehicles, efficient use of resources, better ways of working, innovative manufacturing processes – and I think the next few years will be exciting.

Anna Malos, Country Lead – Australia

‘My team and I will be working across ClimateWorks and with external partners on these growing trends. Ensuring policy makers and powerful stakeholders understand the opportunities available to them, and the harm that business-as-usual will bring. The transition to net zero emissions is gathering momentum and we’ll be helping make sure Australia gains the benefits – across all our communities.’

Anna Skarbek highlights renewable technologies, including renewable energy, batteries and advances in circular economy that ‘continue to improve at rates that astound even long-time sector experts. And much-needed to complete decarbonisation pathways alongside renewable energy, hydrogen and nature-based solutions are both rapidly gaining priority.’

Tam Pham, ClimateWorks’ project officer in the international and country context team highlights new renewable energy ‘a community based, hybrid model where renewables are used in combination with food and land use  solutions and hydrogen’, as well as nature based solutions like natural capital.

ClimateWorks’ Land Use Futures project manager Haley Lambert highlights developments in food and land, ‘the potential for new livestock feeds that reduce methane emissions is exciting. There are some leaders in Australia working on this, who have just received USD $1M ‘Food Planet Prize’ prize.

With a change in government in the US, climate action is back on the agenda for the world’s second biggest emitter of greenhouse gasses. ClimateWorks’ system lead for sustainable economies, Rupert Posner, sees this as another driver of momentum into 2021. ‘A reinvigorated United States acting to address climate change will play an important role in accelerating global action towards net zero emissions.’

Commitments from China, Japan, South Korea will drive the regional low-carbon technology supply chain, there is booming solar and wind energy development in Vietnam and Malaysia, the economic diversification strategy from Thailand and Indonesia are pivoting towards a global EVs and battery hub, the increasing attention for carbon pricing mechanisms, and co-benefit climate solutions. ‘Even in the midst of the pandemic in 2020, there were several case studies from Southeast Asia that gave me optimism and confidence,’ Tam Pham says on momentum in the region. 

‘The adoption of  ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade agreement, can strengthen ties with key players Australia, China, Japan, Korea and New Zealand and can focus COVID-recovery efforts on economic integration and resilient regional supply chains.’ Tam adds that the ASEAN Chair laid out the priorities for the post-COVID19 recovery, aimed at facilitating trade and investment, advancing inclusive and sustainable economic growth, and sustainable energy transition and regional cooperation in natural resources. ‘This is clear evidence that the region is on track towards post-Covid19 green recovery and also the climate compatible future.’

This growing momentum sets the stage for one of the most critical years for global action. ‘2021 is a big UN year for continuing this momentum,’ Anna Skarbek says. ‘COP26 is set to demand more ambition in order to meet the Paris Agreement goals. The Biodiversity COP15 will be held this year, as well as the G20, under the Italian Presidency which will focus on three broad, interconnected pillars of action: People, Planet, Prosperity.’

The ClimateWorks team will be working to capitalise on this momentum and ensure Australia and Indonesia, where our newest office is located, as well as our region can seize the economic, social and environmental opportunities climate action presents.

You can support our work here.