In a specially convened Forum at COP21 this week, Ai Group’s Tennant Reed joined other industry organisations from around the world to discuss the great differences in the extent of Government consultation with business in the setting of national climate commitments.
As the Paris Climate Conference enters its final stages, a huge amount of information is still being exchanged on the sidelines. At an event today, Ai Group and a range of equivalent organisations representing businesses in Europe, Japan, New Zealand and the United States compared notes on businesses’ views on the national climate commitments their governments have made – and how business was involved in the decision-making process.
It was a fascinating discussion. Nearly every nation has now announced a set of fresh commitments to respond to climate change by some combination of cutting emissions and adapting to unavoidable impacts. These ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’ – in the UN jargon – are significant but vary widely in their design and content. It turns out that the ways in which they were produced vary nearly as widely. Australian businesses sometimes worry that we do not get a proper hearing when the big calls are being made. But listening to the representatives of BusinessEurope, Nippon Keidanren, the US Chamber of Commerce and others it is clear that we get a better shake than most.
European businesses were consulted on a Europe-wide emissions reduction target; but they had to do so without knowing how this would be divided up amongst the EU’s 28 members and other nations associated with their carbon market. French businesses found it very hard to make their voices heard, or even to get a serious discussion of economic issues, in preparation of France’s energy transition policy. In the United States, business does not seem to have been consulted in any open way at all.
By contrast, Australian businesses had multiple opportunities to have their say with both a Departmental taskforce and senior Ministers; a short but genuine consultation process allowed businesses and other stakeholders to have their say; and substantial economic modelling was conducted to support a decision and subsequently released.
As is often the case, Japanese businesses had a very different relationship with their Government’s decisions. There, the peak business federation developed a comprehensive voluntary plan for emissions reductions, based on feedback from its constituent members on the energy and emissions savings possible with the best available practices and technologies. This industry plan was essentially adopted in its entirety by government, and is now being delivered by industry with independent auditing. The degree of cooperation and shared personnel between industry and government is remarkable – and may be difficult to replicate outside Japan.
For Australia, there are still lessons on doing better. Longer lead times for consultation before decisions are locked in will give more chance for industry to absorb information, reflect and provide a more considered statement of needs and impacts. A fuller debate would have been possible if the Departmental report on emissions target options had been released before the final decision was taken, not after.
On the other hand, the experiment of meeting with industry and other stakeholders together – rather than separating them into distinct ‘business’ and ‘environment’ meetings – was very positive. Joint consultations give everyone a clearer idea of the priorities, concerns and sticking points of all sides. That can help ensure business issues are better understood and taken more seriously by the environment movement and others. Our own understanding is also improved. Discussions across industry, finance, union, social services, research and environmental organisations in the Australian Climate Roundtable have also been fruitful.
With the Australian Government planning a major review of Australian climate policy in 2017, and calling for all nations to review and update their commitments every five years starting in 2020, we should build on the best in consultation, and strive to keep the channels open for government to hear and learn from business.
What has been your opinion of the Government’s consultation process around the setting of Australia’s climate commitments? Have your say and add your comments below.
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