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On why we don’t have to follow our political leaders

News from the front desk, issue 460:Experts report we’ve had the hottest decade since records began. Large tracts of the country are in flames with ash now contaminating Sydney’s main water storage at Warragamba Dam.

At the same time our economy is behaving like the Murray Darling river system and flailing around like Murray Cod in the drying mud. Wages are stagnant, unemployment is growing, and consumer confidence is hitting the skids.

And in Madrid, at the Congress of the Parties, the world’s unique chance for a cohesive global plan that our climate desperately needs, there is an emerging sense of urgency that’s hard to look at face on.

So, what’s our government doing?

Playing Blankety Blanks.

But while those pollies we pay truckloads of money to in some vain hope they will look after the infrastructure we need to maintain life support, we see ever more reports showing that working on our climate and sustainability can deliver jobs and growth.

We all know this because from our side of the email server we can see it on a daily basis. This industry is growing and at least partly defying the economic trends.

And it could get much better.

Imagine that 80 of our biggest corporates committed to 100 per cent renewable energy. According to a new report released on Thursday this would generate 82 new projects requiring 10,000 construction jobs now and 5000 ongoing.

Just 10 of the largest energy using companies in construction and property could swing 1000 construction jobs in a single swipe right on green energy.

If giants Woolworths, Coles and Telstra alone made the switch, it would cut carbon pollution by almost 5 million tonnes and create over 4000 construction job years.

Feeling a little light headed?

There’s more.

Our 10 biggest energy-users among Australian universities, which have a combined student population of around half a million people and use electricity equivalent to 200,000 households annually, have the power to generate thousands of jobs in renewables.

According to a report from Greenpeace, launched as part of its Reenergise campaign, this is what would happen to our economy and jobs if we started looking after our country better. It’s what Indigenous people say all the time: care for country and you care for people. One follows the other, as night follows day. Exploit our land, and you’ll create some wealth for a while and for a few but in the end, it will yield a negative return, just like the interest rates in some countries right now.

And yes, we know that there will be scepticism but the data just keeps growing stronger.

The data in the Greenpeace report comes from a commonly accepted formula on job creation and energy developed by Green Energy Markets. The assumption is: 1.22 full time equivalent for each megawatt of energy over 18 months for wind farm construction, 2.2 FTE/MW over 12 months for solar farm construction, and 0.1 FTE/MW for both solar and wind farm operation.

You can see the full list of references here. And Greenpeace isn’t alone in predicting strong jobs growth for the green economy. See our recent story on the Western Australian town of Collie where Beyond Zero Emissions says more than 1000 coal mining workers in the town could transition into secure, well-paid jobs in sustainable industries.

Of course, construction and maintenance jobs are not the end of the story. You need support services. You need consultants and specialist services. You need products.

Our recent story this week in our Jobs and Business section reported that the outlook for sustainability consultants at the top end of town is strong and getting stronger. Driving demand are the people who are not swayed by governments focused on propping up redundant industries but by those who are about the loudest voice on the planet: money.

These voices driven mostly by big institutional investors are looking after the rising wokeness of their flock, which is demanding to know if their ultimate investments are green and if not why not.

The world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, Japan’s US$1.5 trillion Government Pension Investment Fund, took a US$50 billion investment mandate away from BlackRock and gave it to the UK’s Legal and General Investment Management because LGIM are a leading ethical and ESG fund, and Blackrock still has a few fingers in the fossil fuel pies.

Fund chief Hiro Mizuno told a crowd at the London Stock Exchange recently that the fund wants to know how asset managers are controlling externalities such as climate impacts caused by their portfolio companies’ businesses.

His message was for other big funds to tell their asset managers “we’re serious”.

IEEFA analyst Tim Buckley, who alerted us to the move, says it is a major good news story and points to a trend that is likely to keep gathering steam. The big sovereign wealth funds are signalling they don’t want their asset manager’s playing with what is now known as the “dirty index” anymore.

And green buildings are go go go 

Export dollars from coal and other dirty products are often cited as a reason Australia must keep digging and shipping emissions. But another report out this week highlights a massive export opportunity for our world-leading expertise in green building.

The World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation has flagged a $17.8 trillion investment opportunity in green buildings in Asian Pacific emerging economies by 2030, primarily in residential buildings.

Worldwide the investment market for sustainable human habitats is estimated to amount to $24.7 trillion in emerging markets across Asia, the Pacific, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

That means there is also an enormous market emerging for architects, engineers, energy experts, water experts, interior designers and all the products and services that sustainable buildings require.

“The floor area of the buildings that dot our skylines is expected to double by 2060,” Alzbeta Klein, director of climate business at IFC says.

“The majority of this construction boom will occur in emerging markets, particularly in middle-income countries experiencing high population growth, rapid urbanisation, and income growth. Green construction is one of the largest investment opportunities of the next decade that can spur low-carbon economic growth and create skilled jobs for decades to come.”

Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, which include delivering housing for all and dealing with the climate emergency, might be the best new business opportunity around.

The report found green building can drive strong economic growth, generating upwards of nine million skilled jobs globally across the renewables and construction sectors by 2030.

It also examines the business case for investors, developers and asset owners  – gains of up to 31 per cent on building sales premiums; up to 23 per cent higher occupancy rates; up to 37 per cent less in operating costs for energy and water; and, where sustainability is incorporated during early design, savings of up to 17 per cent in additional costs for construction.

Early adopters in the property space such as Mirvac, Stockland and Vicinity Centres are blazing a trail.

Mirvac on Thursday said it was the first property company in Australia to jump aboard RE100 and Lendlease said International Towers had joined net zero carbon commitments through the EP100s organisation an initiative of the Climate Group’s global EP100 in partnership with the Alliance to Save Energy to “bring together” a growing group of energy-smart companies?committed to improving their energy productivity and doing more with less”.  

And in the regions, where are the jobs?

All good but what happens to the people in the coal regions who are worried about their jobs? Many say this was one of the key arguments that swung the last federal election, because there had been such a big focus on climate and against coal.

According to Dr Amanda Cahill who heads up The Next Economy, this too can yield positive results for all.

The jobs story and coal is a false one that too many people believe, she says, and thanks to certain media platforms, gets amplified.

As an example she says that in Townsville earlier this year a meeting of local government, industry representatives and other stakeholders was discussing 13 renewable energy projects underway within a 400km radius of Townsville.

These projects need around 5000 workers to build them, but there are not enough workers available in the region to fill the jobs. There are currently 26 projects in total on the books in the area.

Cahill says she thought to herself that it probably wouldn’t be long before someone mentioned the ongoing need for the Adani coal mine to bring jobs.

Within 15 minutes, someone said exactly that.

But the reality, says Cahill, is different. In Mackay, in Queensland, a factory that made widgets for coal mines is now making parts for renewable energy projects.

And in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, government and industry are collaborating on transition from the Hazelwood coal fired power station now shut down, to create more job opportunities than previously.

That’s the kind of story we need to start hearing from Australian policymakers and those who report on them. That’s the story that will help us see a way forward through the smoke and haze into a future that is both inspiring and profitable for everyone.

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