Billionaire Climate Activist May Target More Major Polluters With Green Campaigns
(Bloomberg) -- Billionaire climate crusader Mike Cannon-Brookes could target more major polluters with weak plans to curb emissions after forcing a strategy overhaul at Australian utility AGL Energy Ltd.
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Several companies that rank as key sources of greenhouse gas emissions lack detailed proposals to meet their pledges on climate action, while others tout net-zero goals that fall short of recognized standards, Cannon-Brookes said in an interview.
Repeating his tactic with AGL of becoming a leading investor and pushing for changes “is certainly one of the tools I would go for” with other polluters, the Atlassian Corp. co-founder said at his firm’s new R&D center in Bangalore. “If the opportunity makes sense, if the company is not going in the right direction and offers a large opportunity,” similar action could be taken, Cannon-Brookes said.
Firms including some of the top 10 polluters in his native Australia are failing to set out plans to deal with Scope 3 emissions -- those caused by a customer’s use of products or services, like a power plant burning a miner’s coal exports -- and others have goals that don’t align with the United Nations-based Science Based Targets initiative. “I could write most of their net zero plans on the back of an envelope,” Cannon-Brookes said.
Cannon-Brookes declined to identify any specific potential targets.
Read more: Corporate Net-Zero Goals Don’t Add Up to a Net-Zero Planet
Australia’s fourth-richest person has used his wealth, social media following and influence with global notables like Elon Musk to lobby for far stronger climate action from companies and governments. A 2017 online bet with Musk prompted Tesla Inc. to install the-then world’s biggest battery farm in South Australia, an action that helped catalyze the energy storage sector.
Cannon-Brookes has often insisted his campaigning is his nights-and-weekend job. “I’m not saying I’m going to go off and become a full-time corporate activist,” he said in the interview.
The entrepreneur has amassed a fortune estimated at north of $17 billion largely on the back of his 22% slice of Atlassian, a developer of collaboration software. Cannon-Brookes said he used a credit card to borrow $10,000 to launch the company in 2002, building a business with a current market value of about $58 billion in a country more traditionally known for birthing energy and mining juggernauts.
Since late 2021 however, Atlassian has run afoul of a global sell-off in richly valued tech stocks as a post-pandemic hangover and mounting macroeconomic uncertainty forced a flight to safety.
AGL, a 185-year-old utility that’s one of Australia’s biggest polluters, was in May forced to abandon a strategy that would’ve kept coal-fired power plants running for about two more decades after Cannon-Brookes became the firm’s top shareholder and demanded changes. It’s among the most successful recent examples of investor-led activism and follows the move last year by fund Engine No. 1 to have three climate-conscious directors voted onto the board of Exxon Mobil Corp.
A plan to “refresh and reinvigorate” AGL is in place, including changes to its board, management and efforts to accelerate decarbonization, Cannon-Brookes said, without elaborating. His Grok Ventures family office, now the firm’s top shareholder, hasn’t finalized who will take up a board seat. AGL rose as much as 1.8% in Sydney trading on Tuesday.
Atlassian, which has hit a goal to run its operations on 100% renewable electricity, has set science-based targets to cut its carbon pollution, including Scope 3 emissions. The company is also working with suppliers including Amazon Web Services Inc. to align them with its target of hitting net zero by 2040, Cannon-Brookes said.
Grok Ventures, which has backed firms including solar technology developer SunDrive Solar, is continuing to study more investments in energy, agriculture and transportation, he said. Cannon-Brookes also sees potential in grid infrastructure needed to transport energy over long distances. “I’m very bullish on high voltage DC cables,” he said.
Read more: The $300 Billion Plan to Bring Clean Power to China’s Megacities
The A$30 billion ($21 billion) Sun Cable project, backed by Cannon-Brookes and iron ore billionaire Andrew Forrest, aims to export solar power from Australia’s Outback to Singapore via a 4,200-kilometer (2,600-mile) high-voltage undersea cable.
Before the end of the decade, the tech developer and wife Annie Cannon-Brookes aim to spend an additional $1.5 billion of their personal wealth on efforts to speed up climate action.
The couple will devote “at least $500 million in philanthropy and at least another billion dollars toward investments in sustainability,” he said. “My money is out the door in eight years. I’m not building a big foundation and having money sit there.”
(Updates to add detail in fifth paragraph, AGL share price in 11th paragraph)
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