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As part of the 2020 Shared Value Summit Asia Pacific ‘Climate for Change’ #SVSUMMITAPAC, Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability Dr Gillian Sparkes opened the panel session ‘Climate change: An economic reset’ by asking the virtual audience of more than 500 delegates: “Imagine if three months ago we were told that we have to go into lock down to support planetary health – rather than COVID-19?”

Dr Sparkes was joined on the panel with NAB’s Group Executive, Corporate & Institutional Banking, David Gall; UNSW Scientia Professor and Director of NSW Circular Veena Sahajwalla; and Founding Partner of PollinationMartijn Wilder AM. The session explored the idea of the post COVID 19, ‘economic reset’ as an opportunity to accelerate the path to net zero emissions by 2050.

Martijn Wilder AM discussed investment opportunities including clean transport, electric vehicles; waste to energy, hydrogen innovation and battery and solar (packaged together) into home constructions – “a whole lot of areas with a lot of potential”. However Wilder pointed out that many of these ideas are just conceptual. “Investors don’t really invest in ideas,” he said. “What we really require is for investors to drill down into those ideas, and develop those idea so that they can become investible.” Dr Sparkes asked what was needed to get to this stage. For Wilder, carbon needs to be priced and built into economic modelling “and we need to update our regulatory frameworks to accelerate investment.”

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David Gall discussed the role of the financial services sector through the shift to renewable energy and the significant opportunities he sees for the sector. “Business should not waste this double crisis,” he said. “Out of COVID-19 and the bushfires, we have seen qualities like adaptability, resilience, coordinated planning by governments and business; as well as the ability to get on with making decisions fast, with clear accountabilities, has made an enormous difference.”

Gall briefed delegates on NAB’s commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 and its track record on financing clean energy and renewables. “We have done 130 global and domestic transactions involving solar and wind farms,” he said. And the bank has a target of $70 billion on its lending book by 2025. Gall sees this period as a time to build on momentum and the shift in sentiment on climate risk after the bushfires over the summer of 2019/20. He cited a May 2020 NAB survey of 500 SMEs, with 70% saying their views had changed on climate change since the bushfires; with 55% of business owners surveyed intending to switch to renewable energy sources.

Professor Veena Sahajwalla also highlighted the important role that SMEs can play in this economic reset. Her area of focus is around the potential of waste, for example glass, waste and plastics, to be recycled into high-quality materials, using microfactories that she has been developing at UNSW. “This can lead to job creation and local manufacturing opportunities,” she says. These materials can be used for a wide range of new purposes including medical equipment and building materials including flooring, tiles and roofing applications. This shift will see waste plastics that are deemed non-recyclable, manufacturers into high quality products like face shields. “Manufacturing products requires materials and guess what?,” she says. “You save a lot of energy if you use recycled materials.” Find out more about SMart Microfactories here.

Dr Sparkes put forward that the 2018 State of the Environment Report for Victoria, found of the 17 indicators of ‘Climate change impact’, only 1 – awareness of climate risks and mitigation amongst Victorians – had a status of good. Awareness of climate change as a risk and the need for action to mitigate that risk is increasing across the community.

A delegate raised BlackRock CEO Larry Fink’s quote when exiting thermal coal investments. He said: “Climate risk is investment risk.” Dr Sparkes asked Gall and Wilder how they interpreted this. “As a bank we are very much assessing the climate risk when we are assessing the credit risk and we are seeing shifts around lending criteria,” said Gall.

For Wilder, the traditional ways of doing things is no longer acceptable. “We have got to be thinking of the bigger picture, in a more systemic way and encouraging other people to invest in this vision. We need to have a real focus that we as a country can do this.”

Dr Sparkes closed the session with a call to action. “We have also heard examples of how through a Shared Value model, business can drive the economic recovery and accelerate our transition to a low carbon future post COVID 19. The case is compelling, the opportunities are there. Please act now. Don’t wait for someone else to do it.”

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Quick fact

Did you know that Victoria is one of only two jurisdictions in Australia (the other being the ACT) with an independent Commissioner charged with periodic State of the Environment reporting? Read about Victoria’s Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability.


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