Beyond Zero Emissions: Recommendation

This report was last updated in December 2021.

Giving Green believes that donating to our top recommendations is likely to be the most impactful giving strategy for supporting climate action. However, we recognize that donors have different preferences regarding where they give - for instance, due to tax deductibility in their home country. Taking this into consideration, we recommend Beyond Zero Emissions specifically for audiences with specific giving criteria that direct them to Australian nonprofits. We believe Beyond Zero Emissions to be a high-impact option, but we are unsure of the extent to which its cost-effectiveness approaches that of our top recommendations.

Read the full recommendation of Beyond Zero Emissions here:

Summary of BZE recommendation
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Summary


Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) is an independent think-tank whose research shows the technological and financial feasibility of achieving zero emissions in Australia in the short-term, while maintaining employment for people in regional communities that have traditionally depended on fossil fuels. Its research identifies net zero pathways to unlock economic opportunities for emissions-intensive industries and regional communities. BZE has developed sector-based and region-specific decarbonisation plans for the whole economy. This includes showcasing successful projects to inspire policy-makers to replicate and scale. BZE’s proposals are often modelled by independent economists, to enable quantitative costs and benefits to be identified and verified.


Sam Mella of Beyond Zero Emissions speaking at the Hunter Innovation Festival 2021.
Sam Mella of Beyond Zero Emissions speaking at the Hunter Innovation Festival 2021.

BZE’s research, stakeholder engagement and advocacy is helping to counter the narrative created by the fossil fuel industry that decarbonisation will ruin Australia’s economy and cost regional jobs. This has been a major feature of the political debate in Australia about climate change policy for decades, and an obstacle to progress. This diagram illustrates BZE’s theory of change:



BZE’s ideas are already gaining traction with regional communities, emissions-intensive industries, and state and federal governments from both sides of politics. Additional marginal investment could help BZE scale up its popular Renewable Energy Industrial Precincts and Milion Jobs programs, informing policy proposals that would rapidly decarbonise sectors and communities this decade, which is critical to avoiding catastrophic temperature rise.


For more information on BZE, please review our Deep Dive report on the organisation.


Based on BZE’s achievements, strategic approach to addressing climate policy barriers, and the impact that additional funding would have, we recommend it as one of our top organisations for influencing climate policy in Australia.


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Why we recommend Beyond Zero Emissions


The Giving Green Australia: 2021 Research Process details how we identified the highest impact organisations working to improve climate policy in Australia. The process involved expert interviews, an expert survey, focus groups, and desk research. We focused on organisations that are using the three key approaches our research determined are the highest priority for delivering policy change: ‘insider advocacy’, ‘outsider advocacy’ and ‘changing the story’. BZE uses all three of these priority approaches. Furthermore, BZE was nominated 12 times by the 52 experts we surveyed, which was the highest number of nominations of any organisation. BZE would also deliver substantial returns from additional marginal investment.


In our assessment of BZE’s impact, we spoke with representatives from BZE and interviewed a number of climate policy and advocacy experts and practitioners. We also reviewed publicly available information on BZE, including its website and policy reports, as well as media coverage of the organisation.


Our research led us to conclude that BZE is one of the most effective organisations working to improve Australia’s climate policy. Additional funding is likely to have a high marginal impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions through influencing policy change.


Here, we present our reasons for recommending BZE. We also recommend that those interested read our Deep Dive report on BZE.


1. BZE’s board, staff and volunteers have strong connections with the Government, industry and regional communities most affected by the transition


BZE has six board members with strong connections in the finance and government sectors, including a chair with a prominent media presence.


BZE’s staff have good access to policy-makers and politicians, and regularly meet them to promote their policy ideas and encourage them to be implemented. The public servant that we interviewed said that BZE is “certainly impacting our thinking”, and that “they’re great with outreach and regularly come and speak to us about their work and reports”. The Nationals political adviser that we interviewed told us that he had recommended policies put forward by BZE to the National Party. BZE tailors its communications to ensure that messages have appeal to politicians from all sides of politics.


A quarter of BZE’s 20 staff are based in regional communities, which enables them to work directly with those that have been traditionally resistant to decarbonisation, or who are pioneering change, as many of the industrial innovators are.


Hundreds of volunteers assist with BZE’s research work, bringing expertise in fields such as engineering, science, economics, finance and communications. These volunteers are leading experts in their fields, many of whom work in government and industry and have the power to implement BZE’s research in their own fields.


BZE and its volunteers have been recognised as significant contributors to the climate movement. In 2020, BZE was awarded Best International Climate Change and Environment Think Tank by the UK’s Prospect Magazine, and also received the Environmental Philanthropy Award from Philanthropy Australia.


2. BZE’s research, stakeholder engagement and advocacy is helping to reframe the narrative about decarbonisation in Australia: a key barrier to progress on climate policy


BZE’s research, stakeholder engagement and advocacy is helping to counter the narrative created by the fossil fuel industry that decarbonisation will ruin Australia’s economy and cost regional jobs. This has been a major feature of the political debate in Australia about climate change policy for decades, and an obstacle to progress. BZE plays an important role in developing and advocating for decarbonisation pathways that will enable ‘mining communities’ to prosper by creating jobs in new industries and retaining jobs in expanded industries. This work is particularly cogent in regional electorates whose Members of Parliament are holding the balance of power in political debates about climate change in Australia. Shifting the mindsets of voters in these electorates towards the economic and employment opportunities from decarbonisation could unlock significant progress on climate policy at a federal level, for both a Labor and Liberal-National government.


3. BZE’s ideas are already gaining traction with emissions-intensive industries and regional communities traditionally dependent on fossil fuels


BZE spends a lot of time engaging with industry and communities to understand the context of different sectors and regional areas, and achieve buy-in to its policy recommendations. It has staff based in regions such as the Hunter Valley and Gladstone who work directly with businesses and residents to find pathways to reach zero emissions. BZE has placed an emphasis on making its research accessible to the general public, so that it can be discussed and understood at the community level.


BZE’s work has successfully inspired regional communities to advocate for its ideas. For example, the traditionally coal-dependent community of Port Augusta got behind the ideas in BZE’s 2012 Repowering Port Augusta Report to form the Repower Port Augusta Alliance, to campaign to bring solar thermal power to their town. The South Australian Government supported the proposal, and the Bungala Solar Power Project was built. Port Augusta now identifies as a ‘renewables town’ rather than a ‘coal town’.


There are also examples of BZE’s ideas being pursued by industry. Following BZE’s 2017 Rethinking Cement report, major concrete user Transurban engaged BZE for advice on the potential to reduce the carbon emissions of cement used in its roads. CPB Contractors (a large construction company) organised and hosted events in Brisbane and Sydney to promote Rethinking Cement to senior members of government and the infrastructure sector. The Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA) created new innovation credits to encourage developers to implement the strategies in Rethinking Cement.


4. Federal and state governments on both sides of politics are already implementing BZE’s policy and investment recommendations


BZE’s work on Renewable Energy Industrial Precincts (REIPs) and the Million Jobs Plan has gained traction with policy-makers on both sides of politics at a federal and state level. These initiatives provide detailed, evidence-based pathways to diversify communities that have traditionally depended on fossil fuels, such as the Hunter Valley and Gladstone.


The New South Wales (Liberal), Queensland (Labor) and South Australian (Liberal) governments have all announced initiatives based on REIPs. Relevant federal government departments have also started looking into industrial hubs, drawing on BZE’s research, and BZE has been providing input to this work. The Nationals adviser that we interviewed said that REIPs are one of the best ideas to break the conflict dynamic with the National Party, as (like much of BZE’s work) it offers a way to create jobs in key seats. BZE was told by a senior federal Government adviser that its advertising campaign about REIPs in mainstream media outlets helped with its internal negotiations with the Nationals on Australia’s net zero target.


Federal and state governments have also supported six projects from BZE’s ‘Million Jobs Plan Fast Track’. These projects have a combined value of more than $21.4 billion, unlocking a pipeline of others. BZE’s Million Jobs Plan gained publicity in Sky News, the Australian, the Australian Financial Review, and the Daily Telegraph.


Another example of BZE’s work influencing climate policy is its 10 Gigawatt Vision for the Northern Territory. The NT government adopted many of the report’s ideas in its energy policy. The 2020 NT election period became the first to have widespread bipartisan support for renewable energy.


Importantly, all these examples of BZE’s ideas being pursued are in strategically important regional electorates, which have strong roots in emissions-intensive industries like mining and manufacturing. Implementation of these projects will enable the climate movement (and politicians) to point to real examples of the opportunities from decarbonisation, including increased employment and health benefits from reduced pollution. Seeing these benefits play out for regional communities will create additional public support for decarbonisation, enabling broader national emissions reduction policies to be introduced, and in turn further emissions reductions.


5. Additional marginal investment could help BZE develop more detailed plans to achieve deep emissions cuts this decade, which is essential to avoid catastrophic temperature rise


BZE’s budget for 2020-2021 was $3.4 million, and is projected to increase to $3.8 million for the 2021-2022 financial year. The majority of BZE’s funding is from donations.


Additional funding could help BZE extend its successful Million Jobs Plan and REIPs. For example, as part of the Million Jobs Plan, BZE has developed an open source project database of more than 600 clean projects around Australia – one of the most comprehensive lists in the country. But BZE has not had the resources to develop it further and ensure that information is current. Through 2020-2021, BZE’s work on REIPs focused on two of 14 potential locations: the Hunter Valley and Gladstone. With additional resources, BZE could identify the next top locations of the remaining 12 and start work, partnering with local organisations or recruiting staff to replicate the impact it has had in the Hunter Valley and Gladstone.


BZE’s next program of work will be focused on the ‘Top Five in Five’: the top five deployment opportunities for technology and projects across six sectors of the economy in the next five years that will reduce emissions significantly and rapidly ahead of 2030. The first phase of this project has been partly funded, and BZE is seeking additional funding to ensure that the research, stakeholder engagement and communications components are fully funded.


Risks to Beyond Zero Emissions


Despite the clear opportunities for regional communities from decarbonisation, there may continue to be resistance in those communities from people who work in coal, oil and gas extraction. Even with a plan to transition into new industries, they might push back and could undermine BZE’s efforts to reframe the narrative around decarbonisation.


Similarly, the fossil fuel industry is likely to continue lobbying the Government to maintain the status quo, and with the millions of dollars the fossil fuel industry spends on advertising and donations to the major parties, it will be a strong force to contend with.


However, with the inevitable decline of fossil fuel exports due to global decarbonisation trends, emissions-intensive industries will have no choice but to diversify their business models and adapt to global decarbonisation trends, and may nonetheless look to BZE for ideas.


BZE’s work can support the clean transition of these emissions-intensive industries, so long as it has the funding to do so.


Conclusion


We believe that BZE is making a significant contribution to accelerating climate action in Australia. BZE’s research, stakeholder engagement and advocacy is already influencing some regional communities, emissions-intensive industries and policy-makers from all sides of politics. BZE’s work is helping to reframe the narrative about decarbonisation in Australia, and therefore address a major barrier to progress on climate policy in Australia. Additional marginal investment would enable BZE to expand its successful work on REIPs and Million Jobs. Based on BZE’s achievements, strategic approach to addressing climate policy barriers, and the impact that additional funding would have, we recommend it as one of our top organisations for improving climate policy in Australia.


Donate to Beyond Zero Emissions.