‘Better coordination of efforts between the Commonwealth, the states and the private sector can drive large-scale investment, job creation and economic growth while lowering economy-wide emissions.’

That’s how Climateworks Australia CEO Anna Skarbek described the work of the Climate Recovery Initiative, a project jointly co-ordinated by Climateworks with the Centre for Policy Development.

With a steering body that includes the Australian Industry Group, Australian Council of Trade Unions and Pollination, the initiative brings together prominent leaders from government, business and civil society to help the response to the COVID-19 pandemic facilitate a transition towards a net zero emissions economy.

On 25 June 2020, the Climate Recovery Initiative organised a roundtable at which Ross Garnaut, Ken Henry from the Committee for Economic Development Australia, Clare Walsh from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Innes Willox from the AI Group and many other stakeholders discussed the opportunities unexpectedly presented by the crisis. They stressed the importance of measures that support jobs and growth while also facilitating climate action.

‘Australia’s growth trend was weak even before the massive slug of the COVID-19 pandemic,’ explained Willox, ‘and the escalating costs of climate change have become increasingly obvious. Steps to protect our economy and society by managing and reducing climate risks will support stronger growth for decades to come. Many steps will also have an immediate benefit in restoring growth and employment.’

Participants emphasised entrenching the concept of ‘net zero’ in the policy agenda, and spoke of fresh processes to co-ordinate climate responses, building on the ‘new normal’ established during the pandemic.

A second roundtable followed on 8 September.

At that event, stakeholders discussed two ways to improve co-ordination between the states and the commonwealth. The first centred on giving the Council of Federal Financial Relations – a body that reports to the National Cabinet – an explicit focus on the warming planet, assisting ministers to build climate resilience into their economic policy agenda.

The second entailed the establishment of a new taskforce including senior government officials, financial regulators, and leaders from business and civil society, to advise on opportunities for sustainable growth.

The roundtable also discussed creating, perhaps as a partnership between the commonwealth and states, an Australian Clean Technology Market-Creation Co-Investment Partnership (CIP) to provide financing in clean technology markets across the country.

National COVID-19 Commission Deputy Chair and Australian Climate Leaders Coalition Co-Chair David Thodey AO agreed that such ideas could help co-ordinate climate action.

‘The Climate and Recovery Initiative has put important proposals on the table and the support for them has been encouraging,’ he said. ‘The proposals would streamline efforts on climate risk and resilience across the federation with a focus on boosting jobs and investment.’

Two research papers were also tabled. The first looked at opportunities to create, through the climate transition, jobs in regions doubly disadvantaged by the consequences of the pandemic on top of structural long-term unemployment. The second analysed technology patents to show that Australia was performing well in green innovation.

As CPD Deputy Chair and Citi Australia Chair Sam Mostyn says, the Climate and Recovery Initiative ‘is all about the best ideas rising to the top to accelerate Australia’s COVID recovery’.

Its next major event will feature APRA Executive Board Member Geoff Summerhayes, Climateworks Australia CEO Anna Skarbek, and AustralianSuper Chair Don Russell discussing climate change, the COVID-19 recovery and the road ahead on Monday 23 November 2020, from 4:00-5:00pm AEDT.

The initiative will continue into 2021, with a special focus on the 2021–22 Federal Budget and the preparations for COP26 in November 2021.