Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s (CBA) second sustainability conference, Momentum: Accelerating Australia’s Transition — held in Sydney on 27 October — brought together business leaders, scientists and CBA’s own experts to share ideas and solutions for reaching net zero.

The program included sessions on sustainability and biodiversity, green buildings, impact investing, transport electrification, the role of First Nations communities in caring for country, the mining sector’s role in reaching net zero and the crucial development of carbon markets.

With more than 700 attendees registered, the conference was CommBank’s largest-ever client event and aimed to deliver on its ambition to lead the national sustainability transition conversation.

Australian wildlife biologist and filmmaker Dr Chadden Hunter’s opening keynote highlighted the magic and wonder of nature at its rawest, as he shared highlights from his career as David Attenborough’s cinematographer. Reflecting on his body of work, Dr Hunter asked whether it was negligent of him not have shared more about the plight of the very animals viewers flock to see in his films.

"As filmmakers we have to weave in just enough for that conservation message to wake people up and make them care, but not so much that we paralyse them with despair,” he said.

Chadden Hunter Chadden Hunter

The chief executives of Telstra, Qantas and CBA participated in a panel discussion on the complexity of the low-carbon transition and the need to coordinate and knowledge-share to stay on top of the latest science.

Ensuring the sustainability and decarbonisation of their business was a key priority for all three business leaders. Telstra CEO Vicki Brady highlighted that climate goals are a core part of the company’s corporate strategy, saying “It’s part of our scorecard as part of tracking our performance.”

Meanwhile, Qantas chief Alan Joyce talked about the challenges faced by the aviation industry in Australia, with no domestic at-scale production of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) which will be key to decarbonising airlines. Qantas is tackling this challenge by investing in the development SAF in Australia, as well as through the airline's industry-leading carbon offset program. “You should be able to protect the environment and fly,” Mr Joyce said.

All three CEOs agreed that while Australia can become a global leader in renewable energy and solutions by leveraging its vast landmass, abundant natural resources and world-leading technology. This is where “clarity and consistency of ambition and target for the country” will play a pivotal role in accelerating coordinated action, CBA CEO Matt Comyn said.

The conference was closed out by a presentation from rock star physicist Dr Brian Cox, who said that while scientists estimate there are around 20 billion earth like planets in the Milky Way that could support life, few of them have been stable long enough to support complex life forms, leading to what astronomers describe as the Great Silence — the absence of radio signals in space.

“The reason for the Great Silence is that there’s nobody else out there. There might be microbes all over the place… but civilizations, there might be one per galaxy,” Dr Cox said, adding that this puts the responsibility on the human race to act on climate change and get transition right.

“If we eliminate ourselves through action or inaction we run the risk of eliminating meaning from the galaxy,” he said.

Banner image: CBA's Sally Reid with Vicky Brady, Alan Joyce and Matt Comyn