Business leaders are growing restless as the government drags its heels on climate change

Business leaders are growing restless as the government drags its heels on climate change
Source: Getty Images
  • 62% of Australian business leaders, representing companies from Coles to Westpac, say the Morrison government isn’t doing enough to combat climate change.
  • Nine in 10 Australian business leaders said it’s time that businesses moved to accelerate sustainability plans of their own.
  • The findings emerge as Prime Minister Scott Morrison struggles to get Nationals MPs on board with an agreement he can take to COP26 next month.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Australian business leaders have grown restless and frustrated over the federal government’s failure to commit to serious climate change action, just weeks before Prime Minister Scott Morrison heads to COP26 climate summit in Glasgow next month. 

A survey of 500 Australian business figureheads — from Coles and H&M, to ANZ, Westpac, and Telstra — conducted by energy consulting company, Schneider Electric, found 72% of business leaders said Australia should commit to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, while 62% said that the Morrison government isn’t doing enough on climate change. 

Innes Willox, chief executive of national employer association Ai Group, said the research emerges as the latest indicator of unease from the business community, who fear being left behind as other leading economies adopt bold emissions reduction targets. 

“This research reflects what we have been hearing loud and clear from industry: they welcome stronger emissions action and commitments across major economies, and Australian businesses are making growing commitments themselves,” Willox said.

“We are seeing companies join the energy transition, embracing renewables and energy efficient technology,” she said. “They are ready to support and collaborate with government as it evolves and improves its climate strategy, but they want clear directions. 

“Business wants to see strong emissions targets for 2050 and 2030 that will put Australia in the mainstream of advanced economies and guide immediate action and long-term decision-making across governments and agencies.”

The business community’s appetite for climate action has been emboldened in recent months, as the Business Council of Australia, the Farmers’ Federation, the Australian Industry Group, and even the Minerals Council of Australia have come out in support of decarbonisation and some semblance of a commitment to net zero by 2050. 

Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott said earlier this month that Australia needs to be more ambitious in the short term to prepare “for the future”. 

“We believe Australia can achieve a more ambitious 2030 emissions reduction target of between 46[%] to 50% below 2005 levels,” Westacott said. 

“Setting a more ambitious interim target now will drive new investment and bring forward action in sectors such as electricity where we can deploy commercially viable technology at scale,” she said.  

“Of course not all sectors will be in a position to decarbonise at the same pace, and our plan allows for this accelerating early action in sectors where commercially viable technology exists today.”

Even still, the Morrison government has struggled to reach an agreement with Nationals MPs on meaningful climate action, who on Sunday dragged their feet on four-hour climate talks, before leaving the room without an agreement. 

Morrison faces heavy political pressure from international governments as the rest of the world moves to enact hardened climate measures, and businesses fear that because the Prime Minister’s latent action could come at a cost, they should accelerate sustainability measures of their own. 

The survey found that nine in 10 leaders believe it’s time for companies to accelerate sustainability plans of their own, while 64% said Australia is lagging behind other developed countries on the issue.

Gareth O’Reilly, Pacific zone president at Schneider Electric, said the sentiment is concerning, but that the initiative shown by Australian businesses offers cause for optimism. 

“Australian companies are conscious about being left behind as the world moves towards net zero, and they want to take advantage of the opportunities that a sustainable future can offer,” O’Reilly said. 

“What this study reveals is that Australian businesses are telling us it’s time for government to work with them. In fact, over half of the respondents saw companies as the most impactful agents of change after the federal government,” he said. 

“There is a great opportunity for businesses to harness this atmosphere of ambition to work collaboratively with all levels of government to accelerate sustainable transformation.”

“Climate change cannot be addressed by a single organisation, industry, country, or government alone; collaboration will be the key to making those changes a reality.” 

Morrison last week announced that he will attend the United Nation’s COP26 summit on climate change, after weeks of hesitation. The summit will host leaders from around the world in Glasgow next month with hopes to negotiate a new deal to thwart rising temperatures.

“I confirmed my attendance at the Glasgow summit, which I’m looking forward to attending. It is an important event,” Morrison told reporters on Friday. “We’re working through those issues with our colleagues and I look forward to those discussions over the next couple of weeks.”