A group of Australia’s biggest companies — including some of the country’s largest polluters — has banded together as part of efforts to make their operations carbon neutral by 2050.
- The group has major mining firms and super funds involved
- It aims to reduce pollution from emissions-intensive industries
- It comes as shareholders and customers demand change
Industrial giants Woodside, BHP and BlueScope Steel are among a coalition of businesses including financial heavyweights National Australia Bank and AustralianSuper that have signed on to an initiative aimed at stripping emissions from Australia’s supply chains.
The group, known as the Australian Industry Energy Transitions Initiative, has the backing of the Federal Government through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the CSIRO.
Key to the initiative will be finding ways to reduce pollution from emissions-intensive industries such as LNG, steelmaking, aluminium processing and chemical refining, which collectively generate exports worth $160 billion a year.
Simon McKeon, a former CSIRO chairman who will head the initiative, said such industries typically faced structural challenges in cutting emissions.
However, the former Australian of the Year said there were growing opportunities as technologies developed and costs reduced.
As an example, Mr McKeon said solutions could be as simple as using industrial processing inputs such as gas more efficiently or replacing fossil fuel-fired electricity supplies with renewable sources.
On top of this, he said the initiative might find scope for more radical changes such as overhauling entire industries.
This could include the development of a “green” steelmaking industry, which would use hydrogen produced via renewable energy rather than coal to strip oxygen out of iron ore.
“For the first time in Australia we have created this club, called it what you like, with one focus – how do we get to net zero emissions and what are the best ideas around to assist us in becoming carbon neutral by 2050,” Mr McKeon said.
Customers put companies under pressure
According to Mr McKeon, the companies involved were motivated not only by their own considerations such as shareholders but, increasingly, by the demands of customers.
He said many companies’ major customers were signalling a shift away from polluting suppliers because they, in turn, were under pressure to cut their emissions.
Anna Skarbek is the chief executive of ClimateWorks, an NGO attached to Monash University that helped organise the initiative.
She said understanding how emissions flowed through supply chains was crucial to the group’s work.
“Emissions aren’t contained within national borders and aren’t confined to what happens within a company’s four walls,” she said.
“Globally, many countries and businesses are already moving to decarbonise supply chains in heavy industry sectors.
Oil and gas major BP, which is part of the initiative, said it accepted the need to “decarbonise” the energy industry.
BP’s Australia president, Frederic Baudry, said reliable and affordable energy was “no longer enough — it must also be cleaner”.