Publicly-owned authorities are trailing the private sector when it comes to assessing the risks of climate change in all they do.
So says the Centre for Policy Development in its recently released report Raising the Bar: Managing Climate Change Risk in Public Authorities.
And the point is well made.
The centre’s analysis of annual reports published by Commonwealth, state and territory authorities found that only a small proportion discuss climate risk management.
“While the climate reporting practices of some public authorities are moving towards best practice – the reporting practices of many others are not,” the report states.
That should be a concern to more than the think tank researchers who produced this document.
Shareholders of private companies have increasingly insisted that directors improve their positions on climate risk. Regulations and legal requirements have been just as demanding on private corporation bosses.
The shareholders of government-owned entities are the Australian people – so why should less be expected of the directors of public authorities?
As the centre’s Tom Arup stated when releasing the report: “A complete picture of national climate risk must include the public sector.”
Mr Arup is right in pointing out that public authorities oversee substantial finances, as well as critical assets – like water and electricity infrastructure – that have a high degree of climate risk exposure.
“Clear and transparent signals setting expectations around climate risk assessment, disclosure and mitigation would bring governance practices in public authorities into line with private sector best practices,” he said.
In light of the findings of this study, the Centre for Policy Development makes a number of recommendations.
First and foremost it recommends that government ministers order the directors of public authorities to consider climate risks in their business activities.
This would be done through ministerial statements giving “clear and transparent policy direction”. That in itself should be enough to secure a change in behaviour.
But just to be sure, the centre also recommends government agencies and public authorities be audited for their compliance.
My Public Sector
These are two concise and direct recommendations that governments should adopt as a matter of course and as soon as possible.
The rest of the recommendations list, which goes to standardising frameworks and working with the private sector on reporting take-up, would easily fall into place if these two suggestions were followed.
But that’s where things start to come unstuck.
Governments are slow to adopt serious change – especially when it’s suggested to them via think tanks whose opinions they didn’t ask for.
So why don’t we all pretend that each state, territory and federal government in the country came up with these ideas themselves? Then we can just get on with it.