Greenhouse Alliances Conference 2019 Snapshot: Sharing a Few Gems

We had the pleasure of attending the Victorian Greenhouse Alliances Conference on Friday 20th July 2019. Presentations and summaries will be sent through shortly to attendees, and while we can’t track all the highlights from the day, we thought we’d share a few gems.

Zero Carbon Planning Schemes: Today?

A fascinating break-out session looked at what a zero carbon planning scheme would look like, featuring Shannon Best, BESS Manager, CASBE; Steven McKellar, Senior Sustainability Officer, City of Melbourne and Victoria Hart, Principal ESD Engineer, City of Moreland. The session discussed work done to date on transitioning building requirements towards zero carbon and how planning can play a role.

Shannon from CASBE (Council Alliance for a Sustainable Built Environment) asked us whether zero net carbon for new buildings and precincts is best practice, not by 2050, not even in ten years, but right now! This view is now rapidly being supported by the building industry, where the National Construction Code has outlined a trajectory for the industry for zero carbon homes in the 2030s (this essentially means solar and batteries will meet the energy needs of the home). GreenStar is in development for 6-star rating to be carbon neutral and CASBE are commencing work on how councils can support carbon neutrality for all new developments. Exciting times!

Greening Cities for People and Nature

The “Integrating greening into climate change adaptation” session reviewed the role of greening and green infrastructure in facilitating climate change adaptation, and how to enhance that role through policy, better collaboration and governance, partnerships, research and data, and other opportunities.

We heard from Judy Bush, Lecturer, Clean Air and Landscapes Hub, University of Melbourne; Maree Grenfell, Acting Chief Resilience Officer, Resilient Melbourne; and Joe Hurley, Associate Professor, Sustainability and Urban Planning program, RMIT University. Seeing Judy up on stage made us realise how much she has been missed from the local government landscape, and the focus on appealing to the human aspect of greening, how cities deal with stresses and shocks and the incredible data and mapping that is being undertaken in this space was interesting. (Also if you haven’t yet seen or checked out Resilient Melbourne’s Living Melbourne report yet then check it out here).

One of the Best Local Government and Climate Presentations We’ve Seen. Ever.

Finally, we move to Sarah Barker, Head of Climate Risk Governance at Minter Ellison who gave the keynote presentation about disasters, duties and divestment: Climate change risk through a finance & liability lens. Having attended hundreds of local government and climate change conferences and presentations over the last few decades, we can safely this was one of the best presentations we’ve seen. Ever. Sarah is a content expert who also has amazing presentation skills, and it was a pleasure to hear about the key climate issues from a risk and finance perspective.

The key take-homes from her presentation was that “when capital markets and regulators are on board, political ‘beliefs’ become irrelevant”. It was a nice reminder that the comings and goings in Canberra and the standard climate denial and delay we hear from certain political quarters can often be largely ignored. This is a sentiment we agree with, as we outlined last month, urging Australian councils to largely ignore the Federal election result and not wait for the other shoe to drop.

Sarah pointed to the Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s latest annual report and the climate-related financial disclosure. This isn’t a section in the bank’s CSR policy or standard greenwash. Quite simply, the bank is trying to understand their potential credit risks so they’ve estimated the parts of their current portfolio which may be high risk, where they’re located, and how this could change over time. Under high global emissions scenarios, if the CBA continues to lend to customers in areas where they (customers) are facing increasing repair and replacement costs for physical damage to properties, the estimated annual average losses to customers across CBA’s home lending portfolio are expected to increase by 27% by 2060. (Incidentally, the largest contributor to these losses currently arises from soil contraction, but the modelling shows that coastal inundation losses could increase by 71% by 2060, primarily due to sea level rises).

As if on cue, there was fantastic article in Renew Economy on 26th July outlinining how Australian insurance companies were abandoning the thermal coal industry. Why? Here's a spokesperson from Suncorp:

Through our Responsible Investment Policy, which was implemented in 2017, we apply a shadow carbon price to reduce financial risk, which we review annually. The practical outcome of this is that we have materially reduced our investment in fossil fuels including thermal coal. As a result of these policies, we do not directly invest in, finance or underwrite new thermal coal mining extraction projects, or new thermal coal electricity generation, and we will phase out of these exposures by 2025. We will seek to increase exposure to businesses that have a positive environmental impact, including renewable energy generation and technology.”

Sarah also pointed to the Bank of England’s landmark climate transition risk work and stress-testing of the UK financial system for climate risks. She finished with a warning for councils around negligence because in the legal world, it’s not just a matter of “what you know” but “what you ought to have known” that could be your undoing. Most of Ironbark’s council clients are of course the converted, so people reading this don’t need encouragement to try and reduce emissions and prepare to adapt to a changing climate. But if you’re struggling to get traction at higher levels and need someone to put the fear of an “unforeseeable act of god” up senior managers or councillors then get Sarah to come and speak to them. They’ll move pretty quickly. 

Thanks to all the alliance crew for putting on an incredible conference, especially Karen who was leading the preparation and facilitation. Awesome day as always :-).