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Where Are Our Australian Climate Crisis Leaders?

16 August 2019 By Hugh Wareham (FCLP'17)

As National Science Week comes to a close, LV alumnus and sustainability leader Hugh Wareham (FCLP’17) looks at the adaptive leadership challenges of translating scientific evidence into economic, social and political action on climate change. Addressing adaptive leadership challenges is central LV’s approach – they are the hard-to-understand, hard-to-tackle and multifaceted leadership challenges we all get stuck on.

Where Are Our Australian Climate Crisis Leaders? By Hugh Wareham (FCLP’17)

In National Science Week we know that we have overwhelming scientific evidence of climate change and yet we still face an adaptive leadership challenge in Australia to shift the economy to one dominated by sustainable low carbon emissions.  It is a fact that carbon dioxide levels are increasing and this in turn leads to increases in temperature.  As Australia is the driest inhabited continent on Earth we are going to be at the forefront of the impacts of a warming climate and the devastation that will have on the environment, economy and society.  Politicians, media and community leaders are not treating it as a priority or giving the science-based evidence the action it deserves.

What will it take? Perhaps a climate emergency – well we are already in one.  Although depressingly we still have more arguments in Australia about what is actually happening, in Europe it is largely accepted that climate change is causing much of the extreme and record-breaking weather and action is being taken to slow down the process of climate change.  When it comes to human induced climate change, the science is as close to a consensus as science can be but some public figures still cast doubt and their arguments (without the backing of science and evidence) are given equal time and value by much of the media.

As a country we are starting to invest more heavily in renewables (albeit from a pretty low base) and we have many geographic advantages over other developed countries. We could be playing a leadership role in areas such as carbon storage through trees, and yet in Australia we are still cutting down more trees than we are planting.

A shift in leadership to adaptive leadership, and a concerted approach from across the community is needed.  And on the positive side we do see some important shifts happening:

  • Farmers are at the front line and they are increasingly making their voices heard through organisations such as Farmers for Climate Action
  • More communities such as Hepburn are calling for action or taking actions themselves
  • Banks are refusing finance to carbon polluting industries due to risk
  • Insurance companies are factoring the reality of climate change into their premiums creating a real world economic impact

It increasingly makes economic sense and creates opportunities for vast new industries to be created, generating the long term jobs of the future economy. But we are still doing nowhere near enough. Leadership is needed, leadership from the front, middle and back. Leadership from individuals, communities, businesses and governments.  

We need changes across our society, some straight forward and others less so.  We also need to recognise that there are great opportunities for Australia in investing in the future economy but also some pretty dire consequences for us all if we do not grasp the opportunities for change as time is running out.

If we can lead we have the opportunity to shift Australia from a laggard to leader and reap the benefits.

 

Hugh Wareham (FCLP’17)

Hugh has spent 25 years in the environment and sustainability sector within government and not for profits in the United Kingdom and Australia, the last 15 years being in senior executive roles including most recently that of Chief Executive Officer with ECO-Buy Limited, Interim CEO of Beyond Zero Emissions and CEO of Greening Australia Capital Region. Hugh is currently the Head of Government Relations with Greening Australia, one of the country’s largest environmental non-government organisatiions.

Hugh is also a former non-executive Director of Environment Victoria and is a Co-Founder of CALD2LEAD which aims to assist members of CALD communities to secure quality leadership training and development of industry leading programs via. Scholarships including with Leadership Victoria.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of Leadership Victoria.