Meet Amanda McKenzie, CEO of the Climate Council: 'We can't wait for politicians to solve this'

Meet Amanda McKenzie, CEO of the Climate Council: ‘We can’t wait for politicians to solve this’

Amanda McKenzie
Amanda McKenzie is CEO of the Climate Council and one of the leading voices on climate policy in Australia.

She’s determined to ensure the link between the recent bushfires and climate change is understood, and wants more of us to recognise the proactive things that can and are being done. 

She says that many of the most effective leaders on climate change internationally are women, and notes the fresh style of leadership women are bringing to the conversation — often when they’re leading from behind. 

Amanda’s the first to feature in Denise Shrivell’s new monthly Q&A series, in which she speaks with women who’re making an impact on an important issue. The aim is to inspire more of us to see what’s possible on getting involved in issues and causes we care about. Denise is very active on Twitter in the #AUSPOL community, you can follow her here

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What is your role and what do you actually do?

I am CEO of the Climate Council. We are Australia’s leading climate change communications organisation. I work with many of our top experts across climate science, extreme weather, health, renewable energy, transport and policy. We work to translate all of the important information they bring for a public audience and to advocate strongly for better policies from all levels of government. We are funded by the community, thousands of people that believe that climate change is a critical issue and want to see Australia doing far more to tackle it.

How did your interest in community engagement start?

My parents were both very community minded, volunteering with local clubs and our school. I suppose it was in my DNA, I wanted to contribute to the world and make a difference. When I learnt about climate change in 2005 I immediately knew that this was something I wanted to work on. I was floored by the devastation climate change was likely to cause and felt like I needed to be apart of efforts to prevent that from happening.

What is your main focus right now?

During the current bushfire crisis we have been working to ensure that people understand that these events have been driven by climate change. It’s crucial that communities, emergency services, health services and policy makers understand why this has happened and that it will continue to get worse in the future without dedicated and effective efforts to reduce emissions.

It is important that people understand that Australia is an important player globally. We pollute more than 180 other countries and we are one of the biggest exporters of coal and gas. This means what we do makes a big difference, but also if we fail to act we hold back international progress.

Practically this has meant publishing reports, doing lots of media interviews and supporting the Emergency Leaders for Climate Action, a group of 30 former Australian Fire and Emergency service leaders, to make their voices heard.

How do you believe women can have a positive impact in this space?

Many of the most effective leaders on climate change around the world are women. I think women often bring a different style of leadership which is about bringing people together, listening, less ego and leading from behind. These skills are crucial in a political environment that has often been plagued by entrenched positions and tribalism.

We simply can’t wait for politicians to solve this crisis. All of us need to support change within our own sphere, whether that’s at our workplace, community club, child’s school, as well as raising our voices and putting relentless pressure on politicians. Women need to lead across the board.

Tell us about the constructive initiatives happening in your area?

With the federal government failing to act on climate change it is critical that local and state governments step up. We manage a program called the Cities Power Partnership which is designed to empower local governments around Australia with the resources they need to craft and implement effective climate action plans. There are now over 120 local governments, representing over 10 million people, signed up to the program. Initiatives include bulk buying solar panels, local solar farms, electric vehicle charging schemes and so much more. The councils also work together to share knowledge and advocate together for change from the federal government. It is awesome to see practical action and leadership on the ground.

What would you do if you were PM for a day?

Legislate strong, comprehensive climate change policy to enable Australia to become a global leader in tackling climate change.

The policy should:

  • Drive Australia towards being powered by renewable energy.
  • Electrify our transport sector, manufacturing and heavy industry.
  • Drive the creation of new export opportunities from clean energy.
  • Support solutions on the land.
  • Include a plan to build new industries and opportunities in communities previously reliant on coal.

I’d then convene experts from emergency services, health, defence, community resilience and emergency management to create an effective plan for protecting Australians from worsening extreme weather.

The result would be a pathway to build a clean, successful economy of the 21st century, as well as preparing for the climate extremes that we are now too late to prevent.

What other priorities do you have in your life and how do you manage these?

The centre of my universe is my 2 year old daughter Matilda. She is funny, opinionated, determined and joyous person. Like any parent the juggle is real challenging working full time. The most important thing is that my partner Sam truly shares the load, he believes in me and my work and I feel like we are a really good team. The Climate Council has built a strong culture of flexible work and I often take Matilda with me if I need to travel. I have had her sit at my feet during a press conference or TV interviews, she’s joined me on zoom calls, I’ve timed work around sleeps (which sometimes works!) and she’s been bribed to be quiet with snacks a few too many times.

Over the last few years with my maternity leave and coming back to work I have tried to delegate more and more and invest in staff growth and development. This is improving the capacity of the organisation and has allowed me to step back on a number of elements. I just can’t do the hours I used to do at work so I have tried to be more strategic with my time.

What’s a tangible idea we can all adopt to make a difference?

There is a role for all of us in tackling the climate crisis. I like to say use you time, your money and/or your voice.

Use your time. Have a think about the influence you can have in your community. Can you influence the business you work for, the university you attend, your local council or the school your kids attend to be more sustainable? Could you volunteer your time to an organisation trying to make a difference?

Use your money. Donate to organisations doing great work on climate change, and look at where your money is being invested. For example research your bank or superannuation fund, what are they investing your money in? Switch to an institution that does not invest in fossil fuels – and make sure you tell you current fund why you are leaving.

Use your voice. Politicians and businesses need to hear from you! It is imperative that those making decisions know that the community wants change. So call your member of Parliament, write letters to the papers, sign petitions, and join organisations campaigning for change.

How do you manage your own self care?

It can be hard to prioritise and to be honest I not always great at it. I direct and limit my intake of media, I do pilates twice a week and I take regular holidays. The recent bushfire crisis has been terrible and I have really felt for people who have lost loved ones or homes. It is devastating to now see the scale and severity of extreme weather events that scientists have been warning about for decades. All the destruction can lead me to a place of despair. I find focusing on the little things, like taking Matilda to the park, helps me to maintain optimism, focus and determination.

How do you stay informed and updated with the news?

I read reputable news sources particularly the Guardian and the ABC. The Climate Council’s social channels have the latest on climate change.

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