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Can Australian businesses urgently consider the human side of climate change?

Global Compact Network Australia | January 28, 2020

Today, the Global Compact Network Australia, the local network of the United Nations Global Compact, released its discussion paper on climate change and human rights. This paper highlights the central role businesses play in determining whether or not global temperature increases can be limited to 1.5°C by 2050.

If businesses and other stakeholders continue to sleep at the wheel, they risk propelling us to a world that is well above two degrees, the consequences of which would be devastating to business, people and planet. Whilst some companies are driving forward and making deep transformational changes to our industries and/or implementing policies that support the delivery of a net-zero carbon economy, collectively these transformations are not ambitious enough to decarbonise entire economies.

However, the impact of climate change can largely be avoided if key corporate and other stakeholders embrace the resources and technology already available to them. By working collaboratively, implementing robust regulation and diverting resources – financial, policy mechanisms and human – to action on meeting net zero, including investment in resilience and adaptation for all communities, we will lessen the economic and human rights risks associated with climate change.

Globally, the cost of dealing with climate change now amounts to $5 trillion, including a significant increase in responses to disasters and a world where business, and consumers, cannot access insurance because of the unpredictability of the global climate. Businesses need to understand that climate change is a strategic and operational risk to their success, and a risk to their employees and the communities that they operate in.

If business does not act to reduce and manage their carbon emissions, global temperatures will continue to rise, water sources will be depleted, and land will be rendered useless to the point that the planet will be uninhabitable for human beings. That’s why we’ve identified key issues that Australian businesses should consider when assessing climate change and human rights:

  • Climate refugees

One of the most significant challenges with displacement is the emergence of climate refugees and the lack of an international legal framework to protect them in the same way that international human rights law protects asylum seekers and refugees

  • Human trafficking

Climate change will exacerbate modern slavery, particularly as we see an increase in the intensity and frequency of natural hazards where attention is placed on remediating the damage, rather than protecting the increase heightened risk to people who are the most poor and vulnerable

  • Litigation hotspots

With climate related disasters also being considered a human rights issues this has given rise to litigation and human rights complaints against governments and businesses.

The Paris Agreement and regulatory pressure for businesses to consider the material and financial risks of climate change on their business has also led to increased climate litigation. Whilst most litigation has been focused on lawsuits against government, according to a report by the London School of Economics and the Grantham Institute, the US and Australia are ‘hotspots’ for climate litigation

  • Investor / Activist demands

As external pressures push business along the path to a zero-carbon target, and investors and activists demand disclosure on managing climate related risks, proactive businesses will be at the forefront of institutional investment. However, companies that lag behind or resist will be punished by the market

  • Costs of inaction

Climate change effects will be felt across all sectors. A report by the Climate Council said the property sector is expected to lose A$571 billion in value by 2030 due to climate change and extreme weather. In addition, one in every 19 property owners face the prospect of insurance premiums that will be effectively unaffordable by 2030.

Current trends suggest that the accumulated loss of wealth due to agricultural and labour productivity as a result of climate change will exceed A$19 billion by 2030, increase to A$211 billion by 2050 and then to four trillion Australian dollars by 2100.

Our discussion paper can be accessed here.

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