News from the front desk: Issue 314 – on how the banks get it & what 350.Org has to do with it

BIg four
BIg four

How exciting to bring you our first of three great video interviews from the All-Energy 2016 conference in Melbourne. Even better that we managed to convince energy guru Jonathan Jutsen to be guest interviewer, bringing with him his deep knowledge of the sector; as founder of Energetics and his work in organisations such as the Renewable Energy Agency and the Australian Alliance for Energy Productivity.

The first interview is with the impressive Amy Keen, NSW’s Renewable Energy Advocate who says quite frankly, that the renewable energy industry is “thumping”, backed by popular appeal.

No going back now…way too much momentum, Mr PM.

In the real world the grown ups are getting on with business.

Former executive director of the Bank of England Paul Fisher has been in Melbourne this week to underscore the messages that have come from BoE governor Mark Carney on climate. In particular that business and the economy had best adjust to a climate aware scenario before the financial markets do it for them, in ways that may be far from orderly.

Fisher focused on the opportunities of a clean green transition. It’s not less of anything, but different and new, he told ABC radio on Thursday morning.

Listen to the interview here.

And on local banks…

According to some well placed people in the consultancy space, Carney might be well pleased with Aussie banks. They are outperforming in their response to climate strategies and disclosures – globally, we heard.

Most of the work has been in the lending and investment portfolio driven by the cost of business and avoiding stranded assets, but why are they doing so well? What’s the driver?

A couple of reason, it seems. One is the effective lobbying by outfits such as 350.Org and Market Forces.

“In Australia it’s because of what Blair Palese and 350.Org are doing,” our source said, preferring not be named.

Now isn’t that interesting? Here is an adviser to big corporates saying that grass roots action works. And he’s naming one person in particular. Blair Palese, stand up and take a bow. When Bill McKibben came to Sydney a while back, he noted it was a handful of students who started 350.Org with the members fanning out across the globe, taking charge of a region. Palese took up Australia, another took the Internet. This power of the small but determined, reminds us of the talk that we hosted earlier this year at the University of Sydney where Lisette Collins, a PhD student of climate action in local government, found it was often just a single champion, working entirely unsupported, but doggedly, who managed to achieve real change in their organisations.

That’s a thought that should be inspiring and rewarding not just to Palese but to all the lone wolves embedded in organisations everywhere, who know they have to mince their words at times, and speak out logically and powerfully at other times, and who know they will probably never be acknowledged. Which is precisely the point and why they can be so effective. We salute you, lone climate wolves! Keep up the good work. But know, too, it’s getting easier. You will soon be able to come out of the closet. The times are moving rapidly, as they need to.

Blair Palese

Blair Palese

It happens that this week we received a  Spinifex article from Blair Palese here, where she talks about the escalation of the divestment movement in universities and acknowledges the brave work of students activists. Let’s not forget, she says, that students risk future career damage in their activism. They’re also operating in a social media world that may record everything they do, and make it searchable to future employers. Including the risky photo that illustrates Blair’s piece.

The other reason the Aussie banks are doing well is because Australia has such highly visible resources, such as coal, in the Galilee Basin in Queensland. Poor Queensland. Many years ago at a Property Council lunch economist Saul Eslake called the end of a boom for NSW, saying, Sydney was the lead in the saddle bag of the economy. Everyone was a bit shocked because Sydney still thought itself as the glamour child at the time and had just thrown its all into the Olympics. Today you could say the spectacularly beautiful Queensland is the lead in the saddle bag of our  future. But things are changing. There are lone wolves there too. Renewables targets are rising and even though the official stance is the Galilee will be developed, few think it will be. The reputational risk to the banks is simply too great.

And the corporates

Another positive view on the banks comes from Neil Salisbury of Point Advisory.

“They are the leaders globally by a long shot and they understand the risks,” he says. But they’re not the only ones.

Salisbury, who took the decision not to join EY when EY took over Net Balance two years ago and set up his own firm instead, is glad he made that decision. The amount of work from the corporate sector is growing – good for his business and a good signal to the pace of change.

His business has in two years jumped from a sole operator to 10 staff and he can see the growth continue.

The big kicker was the Paris agreement last year. “We’ve got a lot more clients coming to ask us for services rather than the other way around,” he says.

About 70 per cent of the work is from corporates and 30 per cent government.

“The states obviously have ambitious targets around renewable energy and net zero emission targets, which is driving policies.”

Costs are still a big driver but risk is also now bigger, he says.

Along with the growth spurt in the market after Paris has come a resurgence of smaller consultants after independents such as Net Balance and Banarra were swallowed up by EY and KPMG respectively.

The reason, he says is the need for consultants with specific skills and expertise.

“We’re finding clients are going to boutique consultancies who have the right skills rather than larger consultancies who may not have the right skills.”

Salisbury’s company works all over Australia but the latest move is into Asia where there is a rising tide of mandates coming from governments and demand for Australian skills to meet them. Key areas are Singapore, increasingly well know for its sustainability leadership from government and corporates, India with its “big clean energy movement” and China, with its clear agenda to decarbonise.

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