What was clear from the two days of discussion on climate change was that the Australian business community is already galvanised, taking action and ready to take more action on climate change, more so than many of its international counterparts.
The sense of urgency was palpable: no bad thing, given that the British Stern report, released in October 2006, made it clear that it is not only better but cheaper to act on climate change now.
The report suggested that global warming was likely to shrink the global economy by 20 per cent and recommended that 1 per cent of global gross domestic product be spent immediately on tackling climate change.
Workshop participants talked about the need for urgent action to change trajectory and for real results. The language was powerful: people spoke of lighting a fire and of releasing a frenzy of innovation in the pursuit of better climate outcomes.
Participants agreed there was no silver bullet.
We are looking at broad, far-reaching change, well beyond single initiatives such as trading carbon credits on a global scale and installing solar panels at schools. But what is needed now is a shift in the mind-set.
Change will also come from the ground up and the broader community is ready. Workshop participants agreed that we need not so much to create community power as to unlock it and empower the community through education and dialogue.
The community needs information and incentives. One way of fast-tracking community involvement may be through creating a volunteer-based organisation that takes the best of our community-based operations, such as Landcare or Surf Life saving Australia, and creates additional organisations for tackling climate change.
Another thing that emerged from the session was the need to bridge a gap between community and business. Sanjit Roy, founder of India’s Barefoot College, said that where the community regarded business as being the source of problems rather than bringing solutions – as it sometimes did – dialogue was essential.
Australians want to see goals set for climate change. Long-term goals targeting outcomes in 20 or 50 years are needed but do not easily engage people. Shorter term, more tangible goals will help motivate and sustain community action. It will also be important for people to have some means of seeing the difference they are making, providing people with practical ways of measuring and changing their carbon footprints.
As C.S. Kiang, chairman of the Peking University Environment Fund, reminded the group, it is important to remember that climate change presents us not just with problems but with new political and business opportunities. There is the potential to form alliances with China and India to develop new, clean technologies.
With the business community beginning to act and ready to do much more, we need to capture the attention of political leaders and explain why they should move more quickly. Political leaders must understand there is a bigger risk of under-reacting to this issue than of overreacting.
If leaders want a legacy of action and achievement, or even as a matter of political survival, they need to take greater action on climate change.
Australians’ growing awareness of global warming and willingness to take action places our Government in what some of its international counterparts may regard as an enviable position. Atiq Rahman, executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, told the group: "All around the world, very often the response is that ‘government must do it’ or ‘business must do it’, and you shift the responsibility to somebody else. Here, what is very interesting (is that) the community has reached a level of maturity as well as being ready for action: that would be a major opportunity, to use that for mitigation and adaptation."
Rahman, who is also co-ordinator for the UN Global Forum on the Environment and Poverty, observed that by taking the initiative now on climate change, Australia could regain some of the ground it had lost on the world stage because of its previous stance on global warming.
With business and the broader community already taking action, we are looking to government to intensify and accelerate Australia’s response. Political one-liners are not the solution, nor are talkfests.
What Australians want is leadership and practical tools with which to tackle climate change.
Michael Roux is chairman of the Australian Davos Connection. This weekend’s climate change workshop was part of the Australian Leadership Retreat.