Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes may be taking the high road with plans to invest $1.5 billion in renewables over the next decade, but it’s also driven by a strong economic case that could reap huge rewards for the software billionaire.
Cannon-Brookes this week revealed an intention that he and his wife Annie would be pouring a healthy percentage of their $22 billion personal fortune into green investments, including $500 million of that for philanthropic purposes.
The initiative is in addition to moves by Atlassian’s own corporate targets for zero net emissions and its achievement of operating on 100 renewable power sources at the end of 2020, which came five years ahead of schedule.
While Cannon-Brookes is passionate about urging more corporate titans to jump into the green economy, he is equally adamant that the alternative would be economic suicide.
Cannon-Brookes sees anyone heavily invested in the fossil fuels sector as heading for an economic cliff.
“Economic issues are not irrelevant; they have to be thought through,” Cannon-Brookes said in an interview with Triple J.
“I think any business that is primarily making its money off selling fossil fuels has a one to two-decade risk profile that's increasingly high,” he says.
“And that's not just me; that's not wishful thinking. That's why their insurance bills are going up, their financing costs are going up. The risk behind those investments and their likely return over the next couple of decades is not very good.”
Cannon-Brookes, a vocal critic of government inaction on climate change, is promoting an urgency to adopt change sooner rather than later. He sees the drawn-out argument for zero net emissions in Australia by 2050 as a ‘red herring’, an issue that needs to be ignored. Instead, he wants the focus to be brought forward.
“Net zero by 2050 is a non-issue,” he says. “We are going to have, as Australia, a net zero goal by 2050 within the next three or five years. It's inevitable. What we need to spend time focusing on is raising our ambition on 2030.
“We have very, very poor targets in Australia. We need to raise our ambitions a lot for what we are going to do for our economy by 2030.
“I get a bit frustrated in the amount of time and energy that's wasted on that discussion. What we need to focus on is the next eight years. That makes a huge amount of difference. We can't focus on that 20-28-year issue at this point.”
Cannon-Brookes’ commitment to investments in renewables over the next decade comes on the back of his existing investment in landmark projects such as the $30 billion Sun Cable initiative that will supply solar energy to Singapore from Australia via an undersea cable.
He has also supported the likes of climate change think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions and electric power initiative Rewiring Australia.
But Cannon-Brookes now wants to push the conversation along even further, charging through the politics of the debate to create ‘general broad awareness of green issues’.
He’s hoping his family’s planned $1.5 billion investment in renewables will inspire others to design their own way forward.
“It'd be awesome if a lot of those people shamelessly stole, copied Annie and my pledge,” he says.
While Cannon-Brookes is taking a familiar leadership role in the debate, he points out the economic benefits of taking action now.
“If we don't do anything by 2050, we will lose far more jobs (through) this decarbonisation that has to happen to our economy,” he says.
“If we do it fast enough, it is a huge boon for Australia. It means cheaper energy bills for your household. It means more jobs. Most of those jobs are in original areas which is not the narrative that's often told, and it means a bigger a better economy - so growth for Australia which in itself creates a whole series of other jobs.
“This is our single greatest economic opportunity as a country. And so, we should see that very positively. We should be leaning into that and that's part of it, the narrative that we need change.”
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