Australian co-op apex BCCM calls for fresh action on climate change

'This is a race against time and we don’t know if we are going to win it'

Australia’s Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals has called for “an all-in commitment” to tackling climate change and launched a Declaration of Climate Action at its 2022 Leaders’ Summit in Melbourne.

“If we are to go further and faster on reducing climate-altering emissions, everybody needs to do their bit,” said CEO Melina Morrison.  “Our position paper notes that climate change is a first order risk to the Australian environment, society and economy.”

Morrison pointed to the floods which devastated New South Wales this year as “yet one more reminder of what the future holds”, adding: “The world’s best way forward is science-based, urgent and collaborative action, and it needs to be bottom-up as well as top-down.”

Backers of the declaration include customer-owned Bank Australia, whose managing director Damien Walsh said: “Our customers continue to identify climate change as the issue they are most concerned about.

“We all need to be more ambitious across key areas such as decarbonisation, regenerative products and services, the protection of nature, climate justice, and climate risk.”

The BCCM declaration recognises that “co-ops and mutuals can work collectively to identify the opportunities for increased prosperity and resilience from a fair and just transition to a low-carbon economy”.

Related: Ways Forward searches for answers to the climate crisis

BCCM members will be invited to sign the declaration and pledge action towards meaningful climate action.

The pledge commits signatories to “act urgently and proportionately in response to dangerous climate change – reducing emissions to net zero before 2050 and putting in place actions to start decarbonisation as soon as possible’.

Morrison said the response to climate change offered a platform for nation-building:  “For example, one of our members – [motorists’ mutual] the NRMA – has attracted government help to build out a national network of fast charging stations for electric vehicles.

BCCM CEO Melina Morrison

“That’s something that mutuals and co-ops – with their long investment horizons – are in a unique position to do; there just needs to be more of it.”

The declaration also includes a sector-wide strategy to co-operate to accelerate net zero targets and bring smaller organisations along with the larger ones.

At the Queensland-based motoring organisation RACQ, group CEO David Carter said the sector needs to keep moving toward best practice frameworks.

“We strongly agree there is a role for larger mutuals like RACQ to support smaller CMEs,” he said.  “And we will be happy to share our learnings, tools and resources with the community.”

“It’s encouraging to see the bigger mutuals with their depth of resources now wanting to bring the entire sector along with them,” said Morrison. “That speaks to the ethos of co-operation within Australia’s $34bn mutuals sector.”

Under the policy, BCCM says it will take a staged approach to supporting members, recognising that they are from multiple sectors and at different points of progress on the journey towards a low carbon economy.

Great Southern Bank CEO Paul Lewis said mutuals and co-ops all have a clear advantage in addressing the issue.

“There’s such an opportunity for co-ops and mutuals to work together for collective action on climate change because we are owned by and motivated by improving the livelihoods of our customers,” he said. “That’s why so many of us are committed to carbon neutral and pathways to net zero.”

Another of the declaration’s pledges is to use carbon offsets cautiously and as recommended by climate science, and not as a proxy for taking action within respective organisations.

Morrison said BCCM looks forward to working with members to raise awareness, manage risk and develop solutions including disaster preparedness in communities.

“This is no longer something that can just be left to others, or simply with political leaders or the biggest polluting industries and companies,” she added. “This is a race against time and we don’t know if we are going to win it.”

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