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The Year in Climate Action

Accelerating transitions to net zero emissions

In the last few years, the world has normalised the pursuit of net zero emissions, but aligning action to 1.5°C will require net zero to be achieved much earlier.

The federal government has now committed to net zero emissions by 2050 and our states and territories have forged ahead with their own emissions reductions agendas.

All Australia’s state and territory governments have set a target of net zero emissions by 2050 or earlier and many have set interim targets. In doing so, they represent an important step towards serious coordinated action on climate in Australia.

Our own ClimateWorks Net Zero Momentum Tracker finds there’s huge momentum in companies adopting climate commitments. But to be aligned with limiting warming to 1.5°C, corporate climate action needs to be bigger and bolder.

At MSDI, we are working on accelerating climate action to reduce emissions to net zero. We are also finding climate change adaptation solutions and ensuring that behaviour change contributes to better outcomes.

Pathways to Net Zero

In 2021, we saw Australian industry and regional governments normalising net zero targets and identifying opportunities for a decarbonised future.

Our ClimateWorks team’s October report – Corporate action for 1.5 degrees: Best practice for Australian company net zero commitments – assessed the commitments of 158 private companies. We found there has been a large increase in net zero commitments over the last two years. From the data, we were also able to articulate four key principles that demonstrate best practice. This has been useful for investors and lenders, including superannuation funds and banks, as a framework to assess companies they wish to support.

Our ClimateWorks team also launched a report from Phase 1 of the Australian Industry Energy transitions Initiative, Setting up industry for net zero, with partners at Climate KIC Australia, the Energy Transitions Commission and research partners at the CSIRO and Rocky Mountain Institute. The research involved 16 large corporations representing a critical mass of Australia’s industrialised economy and 25% of the ASX100. Together we illuminated the current factors influencing decarbonisation in heavy industry and the future technical and economic opportunities to move towards net zero emissions.

But progress didn’t stop at our borders. Our ASEAN Green Futures work is mapping pathways to net zero across our region. Our ClimateWorks team – alongside the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the Jeffrey Sachs Center on Sustainable Development at Sunway University, and research groups across Southeast Asia – mapped the key technology and policy challenges in the decarbonisation journey of five ASEAN nations (Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia and Thailand). The project was supported by Harold Mitchell AC. Our ClimateWorks team then incorporated these learnings into its Agenda for Decarbonising ASEAN report to begin building the economic and technical case for decarbonisation in the region.

We also built an evidence-based pathway for the Victorian Water sector to achieve net zero through our MSDI Water team’s work in the Net Zero Water Cycle Project. In 2021, research with University of Queensland, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), and the Melbourne retail water sector found that replacing inefficient shower heads, coupled with four-minute showers could reduce Melbourne’s energy demand in the order of 2000 GWh/year, save 60 GL water, reduce wastewater flows and reduce GHG emissions by 619,000 tonnes/year. That energy reduction is equivalent to a small power plant and successful implementation of this option alone could take the Victorian water sector well beyond net zero. These results confirmed our partners’ continued commitment and participation to bring about these changes.

Learn more about our work in this space:

Net Zero Momentum Tracker

Australian Industry Energy Transitions Initiative

ASEAN Green Future Project

Net Zero Water Cycle Project

Behaviour change interventions

The agricultural industry is a significant contributor to Australia’s economy and an important player in combating climate change.

That’s why our BehaviourWorks Australia team worked with Agriculture Victoria to conduct a study with 50 Victorian farmers to share stories of their innovative, simple, cost-effective and efficient energy solutions. The research found that good farm energy practices go beyond cost savings, delivering co-benefits to animal welfare, product quality, production efficiencies and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture Victoria has used the report’s recommendations to understand how it can better collaborate and engage all Victorian farmers through the government’s Agriculture Energy Investment Plan, in order to help farmers realise their ambitions of achieving the best possible outcomes for themselves, the community and the environment.

As one of two cross-consortium missions starting in 2021, the BehaviourWorks Australia Board has an audacious goal to increase the adaptive capacity of communities most at risk of climate change impacts by 2030. Missions set the BehaviourWorks Australia consortium partners work with broader stakeholders to develop ‘bottom-up’ behaviour change experiments to advance the mission goal. The consortium is MSDI, Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), Sustainability Victoria, The Shannon Company, and the Australian Government’s Department of Agriculture, Water, and the Environment (DAWE). After producing a scoping review on behaviour change in climate adaptation in April, we identified 754 climate adaptation challenges potentially in scope, and five criteria fitting the transformative scope of the mission mid-year. The project gathered 29 stakeholders across state and federal government, Natural Resource Management (NRM) organisations, health and community NGOs and research organisations to prioritise 34 key challenges. In early 2022, we will recruit teams and refine the prioritised challenges via a co-design process to develop trials and learn from them.

Learn more about our work in this space: 

Growing agriculture’s energy future

Climate Adaptation Mission

Education to support net zero action

Education is a powerful tool that builds knowledge, skills and confidence required to create change.

Our Climate Change and Business Risk Professional Development course is teaching businesses how the financial risks of climate change can be reduced by a net zero strategy. In 2021, the education team delivered the course to 1,200 front-line workers from Commonwealth Bank Australia and Westpac Bank, equipping them to have more sophisticated conversations with their clients around building sustainability into their strategy, policy and practice while also strengthening their financial outlook. This course is also a gateway for MSDI to have further impact. For example, a corporate client who had participated in the course engaged the MSDI Policy and Impact team to consult on sustainability policy which informed their sustainability strategy that was released in 2021.

For MSDI, our students are tomorrow’s sustainability leaders, therefore building their capacity to engage in intergovernmental processes is necessary and important. Ten Monash students were competitively selected from over 350 applicants to participate in the 2021 Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU) Student Global Climate Change Simulation. Involving 14 Pacific Rim universities and held across August to September, mixed student teams negotiated together in an online UN COP26 intergovernmental-style simulation. Monash’s delegation included First Nations students of Australian and Pacific Island heritage, giving voice to students from countries and cultures most affected by climate change. Scholarships provided by MSDI and Faculties of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, were awarded to students from the Faculties of Arts, Business, IT, Engineering, Pharmacy, Science and Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences.

Learn more about our work in this space:

Climate Change and Business Risk professional development course

APRU-Monash Global Climate Change Conference Simulation

Acting at scale

Australia’s combined state and territory emissions targets translate to an estimated country-wide emissions reduction of 37-42% by 2030.

While still short of what is needed, this result is higher than Australia’s Paris commitment for 2030 of 26-28% below 2005 levels. ClimateWorks’ State and territory climate action: Leading policies and programs in Australia report analysed the targets, policies and programs that have been announced by Australian states and territories since the start of 2020. The report found that state and territory climate policy demonstrates an accelerated momentum towards their net zero emissions target. The report also provides the world with an alternative view of action Australia is taking and encourages further action across the country and the region. This engagement process allows ClimateWorks to act as a trusted advisor, creating opportunities to support governments in working together and implement further initiatives.

ClimateWorks also continued to have an impact in the Pacific region by supporting the Tongan government to develop a Low Emission Development Strategy 2021-2050 and an enhanced Nationally Determined Contribution. Tonga submitted their strategy to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat at COP26. It was developed through a series of facilitated strategic dialogues with key Tongan stakeholders from government, civil society, state-owned enterprises and the private sector. ClimateWorks, in partnership with Global Green Growth Institute and Relative Creative, led a process designed to strengthen and broaden existing governance processes while drawing upon Tongan culture and existing policies and frameworks. In doing so, the participatory process created a shared language and understanding of the challenges and opportunities of the low carbon transition for Tonga.

Learn more about our work in this space:

State and territory climate action: Leading policies and programs in Australia report

Tonga’s long-term low emissions strategy

Case studies


woman in black clothes and backpack standing on path in forest

A Monash leader creates connections to empower sustainable change.

Rae was ten years into a corporate law career as a paralegal when she made a life-changing decision.

She says, “After the 2019 bushfires, I couldn’t look away from the impact of climate change and biodiversity loss. I realised that this legal career path wasn’t going to satisfy me. I wanted to be part of the solution.”

Rae started the Master of Sustainability and Environment at the start of 2021. She came with a single focus; she was going to learn the science and conservation techniques, and then go out and save everything.

Rae smiles, remembering that bold enthusiasm from only 12 months ago, because while her perspective has evolved into something no less visionary, it is more sophisticated.

“I’ve shifted from needing to preserve nature as separate from humanity, to living in nature for the benefit of both. There has to be a way to integrate with the environment rather than just change the landscape.

“And we need to listen to marginalised voices and those who are feeling the impacts of climate change. We can learn from the Indigenous perspective. Over thousands of years they have developed ways to show we can live in harmony with nature.

“I want to find integrated solutions that help people co-exist with the environment, and help improve their livelihoods, so that they can look after their environment and move forward.

"When I review systems and map out the questions, I see the connections between the problems and I start finding solutions. There is a potential to find bigger solutions than you expected. And that’s really exciting."

MSDI Capability: Build capacity and empower leadership by building the skillsets and mindsets for effective action, enabling people to lead from where they are.

Implementing a systems change approach

ClimateWorks is making ambitious leaps to achieve net zero and ensure the planet remains below 1.5 degrees.

No longer are they targeting individual companies and decision makers to achieve incremental change, ClimateWorks is only interested in changing whole systems.

First ClimateWorks is supporting their team of 70+ people to build projects that have this system change approach. Wei Sue and her Sustainable Corporates team have benefited from the expertise of Amandine Denis-Ryan, Head of System Change and Capability, and her team.

“It’s made us think bigger on what we can achieve and the leverage points to create change. For example, with the Net Zero Momentum Tracker, in the past we would have influenced change via a league table of company results to encourage professional competitiveness to commit to net zero. With a systems-wide approach we’re working with investors and lenders who can put pressure on companies to commit to net zero while we’re also working with companies to give them the skills and tools to build pathways to net zero,” says Wei Sue, ClimateWorks’ System Lead - Sustainable Corporates.

A systems change approach connects stakeholders, identifies leverage points for change, brings people together around a shared purpose and helps decision makers adopt that ambitious goal, then backcast and change with this long-term view.

The System Change and Capability team is providing their colleagues with expert advice to define what they are working towards and design interventions that will achieve their goals; from designing and delivering workshops, to facilitating consultations, and creating system-wide collaborations. In the end, the whole ClimateWorks team will become experts in systems-wide transformation.

MSDI Capability: Facilitate Collaboration by creating and strengthening partnerships, and aligning stakeholders for co-ordinated action.