Australian business leaders the most pessimistic over climate change

Australian business leaders the most pessimistic over climate change

While Australia has one of the world's lowest rankings on climate change policy, our business leaders have a much stronger belief than others worldwide that climate change will bring negative impacts to their industries. 

A new global report from Deloitte found 81 per cent of Aussie execs believe they will be adversely affected by these changes, compared to an international average of 48 per cent across more than 2,000 business leaders surveyed in 19 countries.

The Deloitte 2020 Industry 4.0 Readiness Report found 83% of Australian business leaders though tackling climate change was their generation's responsibility to solve, representing the highest average worldwide.

The 151 Australian respondents were surveyed before the bushfire crisis started last year, leading Deloitte Australia CEO Richard Deutsch to believe they would now feel "even more strongly about businesses helping to address climate change and encouraging sustainability for the long term".

More than half thought their generation was responsible for encouraging environmental sustainability, at 57 per cent compared to the global average of 38 per cent.

In contrast, two years ago only 7 per cent of Australian business leaders believed their companies could influence environmental sustainability to a significant degree, compared to 10 per cent globally. 

The Deloitte report suggests capitalism is being redefined as we enter a new decade, with evidence business leaders and organisations around the world are starting to prioritise their responsibilities to society alongside profitability.

The top two reasons Australian executives claim they focus on societal issues are "external stakeholders' priority" (48 per cent) and "employee pressure" (25 per cent).

"Business is increasingly recognising its role in proactively contributing to society and acting to make a difference to local communities," says Deloitte Australia chief strategy & innovation officer Robert Hillard.

"Australian businesses appear to be more socially-minded than their global counterparts, with 41 percent saying they want to use new technologies to increase their company's positive impact on society, versus a global average of 23 percent," says Hillard.

"In terms of the top five greatest outcomes they hope to achieve with their investments, this is second only to driving greater revenue (62 per cent)."

Hillard says we are now shifting to a new era where shifting community attitudes have made it an imperative for businesses to place societal responsibility at the heart of their strategies.

"Business readiness now demands leaders understand this expanded responsibility and deliver solutions not just for corporate growth, but also to benefit their local communities," he says.

"We're also seeing business leaders increase their focus and attention on climate and environmental sustainability. Our research indicates that industry leaders acknowledge the business imperative of climate change and the associated risks to their business.

"Climate-related disasters will have a significant economic impact and businesses need to demonstrate to investors that they are taking appropriate steps to mitigate their exposure. We anticipate that climate risk stress testing will become a key imperative for Australian businesses in 2020."

When asked about how to solve the problem, 41 per cent wanted to use new technologies to counteract the effects of climate change and positively impact society.

Climate change aside, 65 per cent of Australian business leaders see Artificial Intelligence (AI) as the Industry 4.0 technology expected to have the most profound impact, followed by nano-tech (61 per cent).

They are far less bullish on the value of the top globally rated technology, the Internet of Things (IoT), with 32 per cent thinking it will have the most profound impact versus 72 per cent internationally.

Australians are also more likely to take an integrated approach to implementing new technologies, with 88 percent of Australian executives saying this was an investment priority, compared to 47 percent globally.

It is also notable that just 8 percent of Australian businesses said they would invest in new technology to protect themselves from disruption, versus 56 percent globally.

At 89 per cent, almost all Aussie executives surveyed indicated training and developing their workforces was a priority, and 99 per cent committed to a culture of lifelong learning.

However, only 13 per cent of Australian leaders said they had an understanding of exactly which skills would be required to thrive in the future, versus a global average of 59 per cent. Part of this may however stem from the Australian cultural tendency to understate, given the difference is so substantial.

"These new Industry 4.0 technologies will automate and augment many tasks, and while it will be important for companies to invest in ensuring their workforce is tech-savvy, it's going to be equally important to ensure high levels of competency in the uniquely human skills like creativity, customer service, care for others, and collaboration those skills that are hardest of all for technology to replace," says Hillard.

"Technology is changing the workplace so quickly that many of the jobs of the future haven't been invented yet.

"People need the chance to play with and explore new technology and work out new ways to use it. Problem-solving is also a very human skill."

Australia's climate report card

The concerned and proactive outlook flagged by the Deloitte survey contrasts with Australia's six-worst position out of 61 nations in the 2020 Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI), which was prepared by the NewClimate Institute, the Climate Action Network and Germanwatch.

In terms of climate policy, Australia had the lowest ranking with a score of zero, after the CCPI reported observations "the newly elected government has continued to worsen performance at both national and international levels.

"The dismissal of recent IPCC reports, the government not attending the UN Climate Action Summit in September, and the withdrawal from funding the Green Climate Fund (GCF) underpin the overall very low performance in the Climate Policy category" the index report said.

"The recent decision of the Swedish central bank to divest from Australian government bonds because of the country's high emissions dependency is one of many indications that central banks are increasingly aware of climate risks for the finance sector."

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