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A carbon neutral future is taking shape in Asia, and Australia needs to catch up

October 29, 2020, 10:51 AM UTC

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Australia’s annual Climate of the Nation report, which surveys 2,000 voters and has been running for 13 years, on Wednesday found that 80% of respondents believe the country is already experiencing the impacts of climate change.

The number of Australians saying their country is experiencing climate change has risen 15 percentage points over the past five years, according to the survey. That’s none too surprising: Australia has endured severe droughts, blazing wildfires and massive coral bleaching in that time.

The same survey found 59% of respondents want to see renewable energy play a bigger role in the country’s post-pandemic recovery, but last month Canberra rolled out a raft of recovery policies that support growth in gas and other fossil fuels.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has resisted international calls for Australia to commit to a climate change strategy and set a deadline for decarbonizing the economy. The heavily polluting mining industry—producing both ores and coal—is a major contributor to the Australian economy. But, increasingly, Australia’s trade partners are committing to net zero initiatives.

On Monday, Japan Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga pledged the country would become carbon neutral by 2050. The move had been anticipated since last week. But, more surprisingly, South Korea President Moon Jae-in followed suit on Wednesday and committed his country to carbon neutrality by 2050.

There are few details to Moon’s plan, but the President said that coal power will eventually be replaced entirely by renewable energy, which currently only accounts for 5% of the nation’s electricity generation.

The actions of Australia trade partners—South Korea, Japan and China, which pledged to go carbon neutral by 2060 last month—will force Canberra to plan for a less carbon-intensive future whether it wants to or not. The three countries are Australia’s largest markets for exports of thermal coal and their shift to net zero will leave a hole in demand.

Australia’s financial institutions are already responding. The last of the Big Four banks pledged to stop funding thermal coal projects this week, as the potential returns dimmish.

In the words of Prime Minister Suga, as he announced Japan’s plan to become carbon neutral, “Responding to climate change is no longer a constraint on economic growth.” But, as Canberra will learn, not responding soon enough will cost dearly.

More below.

Eamon Barrett
eamon.barrett@fortune.com

CARBON COPY

Green sheep

Billionaire hedge fund manager Christopher Cohn lambasted other asset managers, such as BlackRock and Vanguard, as “sheep” for not proposing enough shareholder resolutions on climate change themselves. “The asset management industry is a joke in respect to what they are actually doing [around climate change],” he said. “They talk but they don’t actually do anything effective.”

Bob Murray

Bob “King of coal” Murray, the founder of Murray Energy, died at the age of 80 this week. The outspoken climate change denier, who lambasted the Paris Agreement and fought against environmental regulations on coal production, died from complications caused by “black lung disease,” which he was diagnosed with in 2016.

Stay East

China’s environment industry has suggested that aluminum smelters and coke coal makers shouldn’t be included on a list of industries encouraged to migrate into West China, where resources—including renewable energy—are cheaper. The ministry said that the two “high-polluting” industries were already over capacity “across the country.”

Green-red back

Five government ministries in China backed a plan to encourage private investment and foreign capital to back green bonds and fund environmental projects, as China seeks massive financing for its ambition to become carbon neutral by 2060.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

How one company is ‘pulling the plug’ on the ‘bathtub’ of climate change by Emma Hinchliffe 

When it comes to climate change, says Mark Carney, this financial crisis is different—and maybe better by Katherine Dunn 

Lululemon announces expanded size range and sustainable fabrics in new good citizenship push by Phil Wahba 

This startup wants to help you prepare for America’s next disaster by Katherine Dunn 

The COVID-19 pandemic could fuel a hunger pandemic as food insecurity worsens by Aaron Pressman 

How energy companies can combat climate change by Naomi Xu Elegant

CLOSING NUMBER

$4.7 million

That’s how much 15,000 tons of scrap steel potentially harvested from a decommissioned cruise ship could fetch on the market, Bloomberg reports. The pandemic has been a critical blow for the cruise industry, accelerating the rate at which old cruise liners are decommissioned. But it’s not just scrap metal salvaged from the pleasure boats: art work, kitchen fittings, furniture, even toilet seats are all being sold wholesale as the defunct boats are broken apart.