Top Five Speakers to Check Out at the Climate Emergency Summit 2020

Alexi Lynch

The Climate Emergency Summit is on this Friday and Saturday in Melbourne and if you want to attend but don’t have a ticket there’s good and bad news. The bad news is it’s sold out. The good news is you can live stream for free

The line-up is as big as we’ve ever seen and jam-packed with the biggest names in climate. There’s a strong local government flavour as to be expected given the first climate emergency in the world was declared in Darebin and councils are at the forefront of climate action and dealing with the impacts. There’s a local government climate emergency workshop on the Saturday morning but apart from that here are our top 5 picks if you’re attending (or watching remotely!) that go beyond a cursory look at the speaker bios.


Michael E. Mann.

Michael’s bio is a mile long. He’s a scientist and an exceptional one. He’s also a great communicator and we’re a big fan of his approach to the actions to fight climate change. You might have seen him recently on Q&A dealing with climate denier Jim Molan and he has top billing in this article from Crowd Sourcing Sustainability which is one of our favourite articles from the last few years. Michael deals in facts and evidence. His approach reminds me of that of fellow Nobel prize winner Peter Doherty in his book The Knowledge Wars (if you haven’t read it then check it out). Michael will be headlining the New Climate Reality Check session as the first plenary and I’m hoping he urges us to remain focused on the evidence when reducing emissions – just like we implore others to focus on the evidence for anthropogenic global warming. 

Vanessa Petrie

Vanessa is the CEO of Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) and has been heavily involved in the climate emergency and indeed the Climate Emergency Darebin Committee. Under her leadership, BZE has flourished and their ten-year transition plans (for each major sector of Australia’s economy) are roadmaps to reduce emissions often in the more challenging sectors (think heavy industry and cement). The Below Zero Emission Communities panel she’s on also has Taryn Lane who has led the Hepburn Shire Z-NET program and was invaluable providing input and peer reviewing of the Snapshot community emissions tool. (As an aside, Vanessa has been short-listed for the 2019 Pro Bono Australia's Impact 25 Awards – vote for her so she can showcase Beyond Zero Emissions' work through this program!)

Peter Garrett

No explanation required, it’s Peter Garrett FFS. He has the power and the passion and is again unrestrained by party politics.

Cathy Oke

Cathy has been an outstanding councillor at City of Melbourne but more than this she has always worked in the broader climate and sustainability space in academia, communications, education and practical action. She truly connects the international (she’s the First Vice President of ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability) to the local action (from the myriad of environment and transport projects at City of Melbourne to huge environmental events with thousands of kids being inspired to learn and care for their local environment). In her current role as Enterprise Senior Fellow in Informed Cities with the Connected Cities Lab at Melbourne University, she’s linking urban research (academia) with policy and practice (councils) to make sure we’re all undertaking actions that have the greater impact. On the “Wake Up Call” session after lunch on the Friday, she’ll be on a panel with other councillors including Lord Mayor Clover Moore, Minister Shane Rattenbury, Mayor Vonda Malone, Mayor Carol Sparks and Cr Trent McCarthy.

Tony Birch

I was lucky enough to have Tony as a history lecturer in the late 1990s on indigenous and colonial Australian history. He helped open my eyes to Australia’s dark past and treatment of First Nations but also offered examples of survival and inspiration. I remember writing down a quote he gave us from his grandmother – “Life is great as long as you don’t weaken. Never weaken”. Given the seriousness of the climate emergency and the heaviness of many of the sessions, let's hope Tony will urge us to light the candle rather than curse the darkness. 

The only issue with going to Tony’s session is you can’t see Cathy Oke because of a clash. Or Ian Dunlop and Paul Gilding and Simon Holmes a Court for that matter. Or Julian Vincent and Nic Aberle.

It really is a stellar lineup, to be honest we could have had a completely different "top 5" that would have been just as compelling. Or developed a "top 50". Fingers crossed everything is being recorded.