You are currently in Australia. How are people reacting to the devastating fires?
Australians are very concerned about the fires that are ravaging the country, to date 28 people have lost their lives, over 1 billion animals have been killed, an area bigger the size of Belgium and other European countries has burnt and we have lost important flora and fauna not to mention nearly 2,000 homes. The major cities are covered in smoke, the air quality and visibility is terrible. I believe the fires are making many Australians understand that although Australia is a country far from many others with a small population, you can’t run and hide from the impacts of climate change. Climate change for Australia has meant more droughts, hotter temperatures and a much longer fire season. I believe many Australians are very angry at the government's lack of action on climate change but sadly, yes, there are still many who are denying climate change and blaming arsonists for the fires and saying that there wasn’t adequate planning for the fire season--so putting out deliberately misleading information.
Do you think those fires can change the position of the Australian government about climate change?
I do think that the government will have to take stronger action due to increased pressure from the public. I believe that they are going to spend more time talking about adaptation and resilience – adapting to climate change rather than in emission reductions, however. The government have said that they will not introduce a carbon price, will not close mines, and they are supporting the opening of the new Adani coal mine, so without extreme pressure from the electorate I don’t think they are going to do enough to strengthen their NDC’s for next year’s COP. But Australians have become more aware that as a country, we have been standing in the way of climate progress in international talks and I think this will end. As it currently stands, Australia has not set a net-zero by 2050 target, it has no plans to phase out internal combustion energies and is lacking in an overall transition plan – it has a lot of ground to catch up on.
How are Australian investors and asset managers reacting?
I have to say that I haven’t heard very much from the Australian investors in terms of talking about the fires. I hope that something positive will come out of this tragedy and that the government, investors, business and civil society will all now move to take stronger action on climate change. There are currently no Australian funds for example, as members of the UN Asset Owner Alliance – where funds commit to transition their portfolios to net zero by 2050.
What are the main challenges facing responsible investors in 2020?
2020 needs to be a year of action and accountability, as does the whole decade. This year, the COP will be held in the UK and countries have to submit their next round of NDC’s – this COP is going to be significant and we will be playing our role to ensure that it is. I believe the most important issues to focus on are climate change, human rights and investing in and creating companies with purpose through a focus on the SDG’s. We must tackle the anti-climate lobbyists as they are winning the day and are delaying meaningful action on climate change. The PRI will delist its first signatories for not meeting our minimum standards. We are also producing a new streamlined reporting framework for our signatories that will see high scores harder to achieve. 2020 will see Europe continue to lead the way on sustainability. The US election will be extremely important for climate action and also for the actions of the SEC, who are trying to undermine shareholder rights. The PRI is also progressing its stewardship 2.0 program – which aims to ensure that stewardship is meaningful and outcomes focused. This decade, we need to see less talk, more action and investors need to work collaboratively to address long term investment risks and advance opportunities for the financial sector.