Others like Whitehaven Coal can now plan to be debt free within six months thanks to record prices for NSW thermal coal suddenly transforming the bottom line from accumulating losses to unexpected profits.
But all businesses appreciate the need to increase their pace of transition to a cleaner energy and lower emissions future – because the general direction of the world is now clear, the alternative stark.
The bigger debate is whether it will be possible to persuade investors this shouldn’t just result in automatically screening out any company or project associated with fossil fuels. Instead, the argument is that the best way to leverage change is to influence and work with just those companies to reduce emissions, rather than using an increasingly blunt ESG filter rejecting any involvement.
Business leaders and state Liberal governments are operating a pincer movement aligned with Labor, unions and community sentiment.
Graeme Hunt from AGL Energy, Australia’s biggest emitter, told The Australian Financial Review Energy & Climate Summit this week that perspectives on ESG issues had become overly “binary”. But he is optimistic the emergence of new “transition” funds for companies involved in fossil fuels might signal a more nuanced approach is developing in the financial markets.
“Our philosophy overall is to support the transition but to make it very science-based and data-based,” she said. Yet unrelenting pressure to make a faster, bigger shift away still only seems to accelerate.
It’s hardly only Australian banks pulling back on funding in order to balance demands from their investors for more urgent action on climate change. As the Glasgow deadline loomed, Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg finally started to use this economic argument to counter Nationals recalcitrants.
The Treasurer argued in a speech last month that Australia could not run the risk of markets “falsely assuming” the country is not transitioning in line with the rest of the world.
“Were we to find ourselves in that position, it would increase the cost of capital and reduce its availability, be it debt or equity,” he said.
And while Queensland MP Matt Canavan may insist people should be willing to pay more for their mortgages as a result, few would share his assessment of the balance of risks.
Yet it’s somehow come down to a handful of Nationals from Queensland delaying and obstructing the Morrison government’s tortured path to Glasgow until the last gasp of hot air.
That’s awkward timing for a Prime Minister determined to demonstrate a sense of control as well as the ability to “bring people together”.
Given decades of Canberra’s political climate wars, that’s no small achievement. But it ignores how much the goalposts keep moving.
Assuming most of the 20 Nationals MPs and senators do belatedly adopt the policy on Sunday, Liberals will look as if they have been held to ransom by their junior partners. Nationals may think this improves their brand as fighters for the regions, even if agricultural groups and mining companies have already shifted their position.
But savage criticism of the new policy by Queensland MPs will also make it harder to sell the economic benefits and new job opportunities in the key Queensland electorates the Coalition must defend at the coming election.
At the same time, the Morrison government’s reluctance to announce a firm target of much higher emissions reductions by 2030 – rather than just updating projections – will also leave it vulnerable to criticism its ambitions remain inadequate.
It won’t just be Labor rediscovering its own post-2019 election courage once it has seen the government’s policy. A potent combination of business leaders and state Liberal governments are operating a pincer movement aligned with Labor, unions and community sentiment.
The NSW Coalition in particular is pushing a strong, positive message about the massive economic opportunities and jobs from its higher emissions reduction target this decade, urging Canberra to follow suit. The state Nationals firmly support this approach despite the abrupt exit of Gladys Berejiklian as premier and Nationals leader John Barilaro.
It means Morrison’s highly effective scare campaign against the unknown cost of Labor’s climate policy at the last election has been rendered irrelevant. It’s now the Coalition at greater risk from the rapidly altered mood and accusations that the government just doesn’t get it.
Morrison will argue his case hard, with his primary target a different audience of “quiet Australians” in marginal outer-suburban seats worried about bills and jobs. He will point to Australia’s record of over-delivering on emissions reduction while keeping the lights on and prices affordable. It will require all his powers of persuasion.