Australia’s biggest property companies are making net-zero emissions pledges – now we can track them



Huge crowds marched last week to demand progress towards net zero emissions – and companies are listening.
AAP Image/James Ross

Amandine Denis, Monash University

Corporate Australia is taking action on climate change. Most recently, at the UN Climate Summit, Atlassian cofounder Michael Cannon-Brookes announced the A$26 billion Australian software company’s commitment to net zero emissions by 2050.

Net zero pledges like this are becoming more common but currently there is no way to really track momentum towards net zero emissions across different sectors of the economy.




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Now, a Net Zero Momentum Tracker initiative has been established by ClimateWorks Australia and the Monash Sustainable Development Institute to track emissions reduction commitments made by major Australian companies and organisations, as well as state and local governments.

The tracker aims to place all commitments to net zero emissions in Australia in one place and evaluate how well they align with the Paris climate goals.

Property sector tracking towards net zero emissions

We began by assessing Australia’s property sector. Last week we released a report examining all property companies listed in the ASX 200, plus all of those required to report their emissions under the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act.

Among the companies we looked at are Dexus, Mirvac, Stockland Corporation, GPT Group, and Lendlease. They develop, own or manage some of Australia’s largest corporate offices, commercial properties, retail centres, retirement villages, and residential developments.




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The report found almost half – 43% – of Australia’s largest listed property companies have made commitments that closely align with the Paris Climate Agreement, aiming to achieve net zero greenhouse emissions before 2050 for their owned and managed assets.

Significantly, the six companies with the most ambitious net zero targets represent 36% of the ASX 200 property sector. Among these six, several major companies – Dexus, Mirvac, GPT Group, and Vicinity – are aiming for net zero emissions by 2030, demonstrating the business case for strong climate action.

Sector leaders can inspire copycat action

By highlighting what action organisations are taking and how, the Net Zero Momentum Tracker initiative aims to encourage more organisations to make and strengthen commitments to reduce their emissions, in line with the goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

For example, Australia’s largest owner and manager of office property, Dexus, has a comprehensive strategy for reaching its goal of net zero emissions across the group’s managed property portfolio. This includes reducing energy use, shifting to renewable electricity, electrifying their buildings, and reducing their non-energy emissions from waste, waste water and air conditioning.

Of particular significance is Mirvac’s pledge to be “net positive” by 2030. This means the company aims to go beyond net zero, reducing emissions by more than its operations emit. Mirvac has established an energy company to install rooftop solar on their commercial buildings and is selling power to occupants, among other initiatives. The company also has a “house with no bills” pilot project, to explore how their upstream indirect emissions can be minimised for residential developments.




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Another major company, the GPT Group, has extended its commitment beyond the assets it owns and manages to all buildings it has an ownership interest in, including buildings it co-owns or does not manage.

These companies will get multiple benefits from their action, including reduced operating costs, better health and productivity for occupants, and increased sales prices, rents and occupancy rates.

Need to accelerate action

While many property companies are tracking in the right direction, none of the companies we considered had net zero targets which comprehensively covered all of their emissions – such as those from co-owned assets, their supply chains and investments.

There is still significant opportunity for property companies to strengthen their commitments towards net zero emissions. This requires targets which address the full scope of direct and indirect emissions within each company’s influence, supported by detailed plans to achieve this.




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By making these public commitments to reduce emissions, the property sector is helping build momentum towards achieving this goal across the entire Australian economy.

The next assessments to be undertaken by the Net Zero Momentum Tracker initiative include the banking sector and state and local governments.The Conversation

Amandine Denis, Head of Research, ClimateWorks Australia, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Labor pledges $14m funding boost to Environmental Defenders Offices – what do these services do?


Amelia Thorpe, UNSW

The federal Labor Party announced this week that, if elected, it will restore funding to Environmental Defenders Offices (EDOs) across Australia, in a package worth $14 million over four years.

Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek explained:

These organisations ensure that ordinary Australians have proper access to the law. We know that big corporations have deep pockets and they’re able to employ expensive legal teams but ordinary Australians – farmers, indigenous communities, ordinary citizens – should have just the same access to the law as anybody with the most expensive lawyers in the country.

What are EDOs?

The first EDO was established in New South Wales in 1985, following the passage of a suite of environmental laws in the late 1970s covering heritage protection, environmental planning approvals, and establishing the Land and Environment Court.

With growing public interest in planning and development, including the celebrated Green Bans movement, those laws introduced new requirements for environmental impact assessment, heritage protection and public participation. They also gave everyone the right to take legal action by bringing environmental matters to court.

Even the best legislation is of little value, however, if people don’t have the means to make use of it. That is where the EDO comes in.

In 1981, shortly after the opening of the new Land and Environment Court, a group of lawyers began working to establish an organisation to empower the community to make use of these new laws to protect the environment. After four years of planning and fundraising, the NSW EDO opened with a staff of one: solicitor Judith Preston.

The idea spread. EDOs were set up in Victoria and Queensland in the early 1990s, and eventually established in all eight states and territories, with an additional office in North Queensland. The various EDOs have always remained separate, each managed by an independent board, although since 1996 they have shared advice and support through a national network.

Punching above their weight

Despite their shoestring budgets, EDO lawyers have proved effective, developing impressive programs of litigation and legal education. With grants from groups such as the Myer Foundation and, later, recurrent funding from state and federal governments, EDOs were a well established part of the Australian legal landscape by the early 2000s.

NSW, Queensland and Victoria were particularly effective in securing funding, each boasting dozens of staff at their peak in the mid-2000s. Thanks to large grants from the NSW Public Purpose Fund and the MacArthur Foundation, the NSW EDO’s staff included not just lawyers but also environmental scientists, an Indigenous solicitor working specifically on Indigenous matters, and a team working from a new regional office in Lismore.

Despite salaries well below market rates, EDO lawyers have consistently punched above their weight. Landmark wins have included defending the WA tourist town of Margaret River against coal mining, and helping the Goolarabooloo community challenge approvals for a liquefied natural gas hub at James Price Point, north of Broome. In 2015 the NSW EDO successfully overturned the approval of Adani’s Carmichael coal mine in central Queensland, although the federal government later reapproved it.




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With success, particularly against Adani, came criticism. After almost 20 years of bipartisan support, the Abbott government abruptly cut funding to EDOs in 2013 amid allegations of activist “lawfare”. Coalition governments in several states followed suit, prompting staff cuts, restructures, and an increase in fundraising efforts among the EDO network. EDO Victoria became Environmental Justice Australia, the Lismore office closed, and EDOs generally reduced the scale and scope of their work.

While EDOs are best known for their litigation – running high-profile cases on issues such as climate change, conservation and alleged water theft in the Murray-Darling Basin – their work is much broader than this. All EDOs provide free legal education and advice, both via telephone and through community workshops and seminars, many in rural and remote areas. They publish plain-language explanations of a complex range of state and federal environmental laws, a vital resource used by government departments and universities as well as members of the public. EDOs also undertake law reform work, making submissions to parliamentary inquiries and giving expert evidence.




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Around the world, environmental laws are under attack in all sorts of ways


This work remains vital. As in the 1980s, laws are only as effective as the people who enforce them. As the Productivity Commission explained in its inquiry into access to justice (see page 711 here), “The rationales for government support for environmental matters are well recognised.”

Legal education, outreach, advice and, occasionally, public interest litigation, are essential for environmental justice and should be funded accordingly.The Conversation

Amelia Thorpe, Associate Professor, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Twenty-five years of Australian climate pledges, trumped…


Marc Hudson, University of Manchester

Sunday marked exactly a quarter-century since Australia’s then federal environment minister Ros Kelly signed the world’s first climate treaty, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, at the Earth Summit
in Rio de Janiero.

Eighteen months earlier, Kelly had had to cajole her cabinet colleagues into agreeing an ambitious emissions reduction target. Prime Minister Paul Keating himself wasn’t bothered to attend the Rio Earth Summit (most world leaders did), and in the words of one journalist, was “preoccupied with winning the upcoming election [and] said he wasn’t going all the way to Rio to give a six-minute speech.”

Thanks to a judicious mix of lobbying and “the sky will fall” economic modelling, the coal industry and its allies had persuaded the government to reduce its ambitions. Proposals from within the Ecologically Sustainable Development process and the Industry Commission for some kind of carbon price (either a trading scheme or a straight-up tax) were lobbied out of existence, and at the end of 1992, federal and state governments agreed a purely voluntary National Greenhouse Response Strategy. Later the same month, Australia had ratified the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, one of the first nations to do so.

Trouble was afoot though. Developed nations, including Australia, had agreed under the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility” that they should take the lead in emissions reduction. But the Keating government was not keen, with Treasurer Ralph Willis flagging possible withdrawal from the treaty.

At the first Conference of the Parties, held in March and April 1995 and chaired by a young Angela Merkel, Australia lobbied unsuccessfully against this idea of rich countries taking the lead.

The federal government then used economic modelling by the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics to argue that Australia deserved special treatment. (The modelling, it emerged, was funded largely by fossil fuel interests). Prime Minister John Howard, who was on the record as saying that Australia should never have signed in Rio, tried to get support for what was called “differentiation”, with limited success.

At the 1997 Kyoto meeting, brinkmanship by Australia secured a sweet deal: its agreed emissions “reduction” target was an 8% increase on 1990 levels by 2012, as well as a loophole to allow it to count reductions in land-clearing towards the target.

In September 1998 it emerged that the Howard cabinet had agreed not to ratify Kyoto until the US did. In March 2001, President George W. Bush pulled the US out, citing the “national interest”. On World Environment Day 2002, John Howard – to precisely nobody’s surprise – did the same, with the same reasoning.

After Kyoto came into effect (the Russians signed on, in exchange for World Trade Organisation membership) Bush and Howard set up what was regarded as a spoiler organisation, the short-lived and much derided Asia Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate.

The mood music changed in 2007 with the election of Kevin Rudd, who ratified Kyoto as his first act, but declined to set stronger short-term emissions targets at his first UNFCCC meeting, in Bali.

The lack of ambition in Rudd’s signature climate policy enraged environmentalists, with only a slight increase in emissions reductions if there were a global deal. The Copenhagen debacle, in late 2009, seems to have shaken Rudd to his core (according to accounts by Paul Kelly, Philip Chubb and others), and Rudd fatefully tried to kick climate policy into the long grass.

Next came Julia Gillard, who forged ahead with climate policy not for international reasons but because her minority government’s backers insisted upon it.

Then, under Tony Abbott, Australia’s role in UN climate talks plumbed new depths. No minister attended the 2013 summit in Warsaw, with Greg Hunt too busy abolishing Gillard’s carbon price.

Ahead of the crucial 2015 Paris talks, Australia produced a low target of 26-28% reduction for the 2015 Paris meeting, which was attended by Malcolm Turnbull.

Australia has signed up to the Paris Agreement, just as Trump was elected. In theory this means it is committed to keeping global average temperature rise “well below 1.5℃”. In practice, not so much…

Will we always have Paris?

Trump has now sensationally announced plans to withdraw the US from Paris, citing a desire to renegotiate a deal he claims is bad for the US and arguing that he was elected to govern “Pittsburgh, not Paris”.

This is despite the fact that none of the Paris deal’s emissions targets or climate financing commitments are legally binding, and even if the accord could be renegotiated (which it can’t) it is difficult to imagine how the world’s worst cumulative greenhouse polluter could be handed a more favourable outcome.

The Washington Post argued that Trump has already put the brakes on climate action, while Elizabeth Bomberg, writing in the journal Environmental Politics, argues that:

Constitutional checks, societal, local and subnational mobilization, combined with the economic trajectory of low carbon energy, could well offset the President’s moves to dismantle environmental protection and climate policy and action. In the end, Trump’s impact will depend less on what he does, and more on what others do.

Trump was advised by Michaelia Cash not to quit the Paris Agreement, and Australia’s environment minister Josh Frydenberg has said that Australia will stay in.

Opinions vary on the Paris climate deal. On this site Luke Kemp has argued the world would be better off without a recalcitrant US still sitting in the negotiations.

My opinion is that Paris is little more than words anyway – a “pledge and review” retread of the Kyoto Protocol, featuring years of stocktakes while the carbon dioxide relentlessly accumulates in our skies. Where did it all go wrong?

Environmental organisations thought that getting governments to make promises was enough. But it turns out that unless we have monitory democracy, in the words of John Keane, then vested interests can run rings around morality and common sense.

The ConversationThen again, it’s not clear how we could have built the infrastructure of monitoring, on such a long-term and wicked problem, with marches losing their efficacy and activists burning out as they look into the abyss (and the abyss looks back into them)? With the Great Barrier Reef dying, and the scientists saying even the 2℃ target may now be beyond reach, it will soon be hard to mobilise people because they will believe that there is “nothing left to do but scream”.

Marc Hudson, PhD Candidate, Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

USA Pledges Support to Combat Illegal Wildlife Trafficking


The link below is to an article reporting on a pledge by the USA to support efforts to combat illegal wildlife trafficking in Africa.

For more visit:
http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/2743/20130701/obama-makes-10m-pledge-combat-illegal-wildlife-trafficking.htm