Australia is the world’s leading exporter of coal and liquified natural gas (LNG)—but the transition to green energy could make it a renewable energy superpower instead, says Mike Cannon-Brookes, the co-founder and co-CEO of the software company Atlassian, and a major investor in green projects.
“Australia should aim for 500% renewables,” he said during Thursday’s episode of TIME100 Talks. “We’re on one of the sunniest windiest countries in the world.”
That means Australia wouldn’t just produce green energy for its own needs—but should be sending it to other countries—much as it does fossil fuels now.
The tech billionaire is throwing his weight (and cash) behind the transition to renewables. Cannon-Brookes is backing the Sun Cable, a massive solar farm planned for the country’s sun-drenched Northern Territory, which has ambitions to send power to Singapore via a long undersea cable.
But so far, Australia remains a climate laggard compared to other wealthy countries. Rather than committing to net zero carbon emissions, it said it will reduce its output by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030. Prime Minister Scott Morrison—who in 2017 brought a softball-size lump of coal into parliament to taunt the opposition party over its renewable energy plans—has so far refused to set tougher targets.
There is speculation that Morrison will bow to pressure before the COP26 climate summit, which begins in November. In recent weeks, prominent members of his own party have spoken out about the need for tougher emissions reductions targets. In late September, the country’s treasurer Josh Frydenberg warned that Australia had a lot to lose if others believe “we are not transitioning in line with the rest of the world.”
Cannon-Brookes hopes the Australian government takes much stronger targets to COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, but he says that companies aren’t waiting for the government to take action. He committed Atlassian to reach net-zero by 2050. But clear government rules and targets would create stability that would make it easier for the green revolution to happen by providing a lower cost of capital and a better environment for businesses to innovate and make necessary changes, he says.
Corporate leaders can help encourage governments to take action on climate change by explaining “what sensible, progressive forward-thinking climate policy can mean for the businesses in terms of risk and cost reductions.”
Cannon-Brookes says that exporting renewables will also make green energy cheaper for Australians—and create jobs along the way. He hopes the Sun Cable project can act as a lighthouse: “I think that project can show not just the opportunity for renewable energy, but also for Australia to export renewable energy.”
“Australia should be a complete renewable energy superpower through this transition,” he says. “We’re really trying to show that that can be the case…to make sure that we’re hopefully leading the region in that transition, rather than being a laggard as we are at the moment.”
Thursday’s TIME100 Talks episode focused on the future of innovation, and also featured Bangkok-based landscape architect Kotchakorn Voraakhom, the CEO of Landprocess and Porous City Network; and Yancey Hai, the chairman of Delta Electronics Inc., one of the world’s largest electronics manufacturers.