In October, ClimateWorks hosted an expert panel presenting findings from two new reports which spotlight the urgent actions needed from companies and state and territory governments. Drawing a large audience, host Rupert Posner, System Lead – Sustainable Economies, introduced ClimateWorks’ Simon Graham, Senior Analyst; Wei Sue, System Lead – Sustainable Corporates; and Coral Bravo Cadena, also a Senior Analyst.

The webinar (watch it here) marked the official launch of State and Territory Climate Action: Leading policies and programs in Australia. With Australian state and territory governments already committed to net zero emissions by 2050 or earlier, new analysis suggests there is some cause for optimism following recent activity: Jurisdictions have increased their ambition since the start of 2020, including setting new targets and making regulatory and legislative changes. They’ve also invested more than $8 billion in direct emissions reducing measures, as well as allocated billions of funding for assets that will indirectly reduce emissions. 

As Rupert noted, ‘(States and territories) have built important momentum, and their current 2030 targets will get us about halfway there. The country now has the chance to capitalise on this.’

Simon explained why the next decade is so critical: ‘Net zero by 2050 is aligned to a 2 degree target, but 1.5 degrees requires getting to net zero much earlier – by the mid 2030s.’ This means there is room and the need for much greater ambition. And past delays have left us without any time to waste: We must go harder and faster – most of the cuts must be delivered this decade. 

We already know this is possible. ‘Our Decarbonisation Futures benchmarks were released in April 2020 and show rapid decarbonisation is possible for Australia,’ said Rupert. ‘This is if Australia rolls out mature technologies and other solutions, invests in R&D and ensures long-lived assets are built with a net zero emissions future in mind.’ 

So with momentum from states and territories offering hope, what does the new ‘best practice’ report indicate for corporate Australia? This was the focus of discussion around the next report, Corporate Action for 1.5 degrees: Best practice for Australian company net zero commitments. Because when governments commit to net zero targets it means all businesses do too. 

The corporate sector represents the majority of Australia’s emissions. ClimateWorks, through the Net Zero Momentum Tracker project, has monitored, assessed and tracked the progress of 215 organisations toward net zero emissions since October 2019. Of these, 158 are from the corporate sector and include property, transport, retail, banking, superannuation, resources and energy generation/retail.

According to Wei, in the two years since launching the Net Zero Momentum Tracker project, we’ve seen large increases in net zero commitments from the corporate sector. With so much variety in these climate commitments, Wei pointed to the need for consistency and alignment to 1.5 degrees – which is fast becoming the global standard. 

‘There are consistent principles emerging globally that demonstrate what 1.5 degrees alignment looks like – this is what Australian businesses should look to,’ she said. These include a long-term net zero commitment by or before 2050; having at least one appropriate and ambitious medium term target; addressing operational, value chain, customer and financed emissions; and undertaking demonstrable, tangible near-term actions.

The report showed evidence of growing climate leadership from most corporate sectors. Two Australian ASX-listed companies now have net zero emissions targets fully aligned with global science. But the report also showed our private sector can and must do more, and that most of existing corporate commitments won’t be enough for Australia to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement, or to play its part in limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

The session included questions from the audience, beginning with a query around the apparent discrepancy between ClimateWorks’ reference to a 1.5 degree scenario requiring Australia to achieve net zero emissions by 2035 – versus the global net zero deadline ‘by 2050’. Mr Graham agreed the different deadlines cause confusion, but that the global goal takes into account the trajectories of nations with developing economies, where emissions are likely to peak later than ours and so require a different timeline. He added that countries’ remaining carbon budgets are also a factor in mapping their emissions reduction trajectories.

In response to a question about the proportion of emissions by sector, Mr Graham pointed out that net zero trajectories don’t necessarily correspond with the tonnes to be addressed.  ‘Electricity, for example, is a large source of emissions but solutions are very mature, so the sector can get to net zero more quickly’, he offered. On the other hand, solutions within harder to abate sectors, such as industry and agriculture, still need further development and may take longer. 

On the question of how states, territories and companies are addressing emissions from energy intensive and harder to abate sectors such as industry, Wei noted the challenges in working right across supply chains when that can involve many companies. ‘One answer to that has been to form alliances and networks,’’ she explained. They can work on the issues together, share information and use their combined efforts to develop solutions that benefit all.

Addressing a question about the impact of the analysis in these reports, Coral responded that the Net Zero Momentum Tracker project generates positive feedback with each report. She listed the many interactions: Corporates are asking what they can do to decarbonise; they ask what others – including competitors – are doing; analysis in reports is quoted during their operational discussions, offering benchmarks for net zero planning. ‘They are reaching out to us directly, for more information,’ she added. There is momentum. It now must translate to best practice action.

Read the full reports: 

State and Territory climate action: Leading policies and programs in Australia

Corporate action for 1.5 degrees: Best practice for Australian company net zero commitment