COP 26: Here’s the speech I’d like to hear

If I were the Australian Prime Minister, a few words to lead the world

Saul Griffith
6 min readOct 11, 2021

I have been wondering how world leaders will window-dress the chasm between climate ambition and climate reality. The “commitments” continue to outpace actual “action.” For example, the admirable Biden “50% reductions by 2030” goal is nowhere to be seen in the lackluster ambition of Infrastructure and reconciliation acts.

I’m Australian, and I may be crazy, but because home economics of climate solutions is already beneficial for some Australian households and will be a slam dunk for most by 2025, I have a “theory of change” that Australia might set the pace on climate for others to follow.

It’s a pipedream, but here is my speech that I would like the Australian Prime Minister (a coal holding climate pariah, historically) to give at Glasgow. It is written to give him the opportunity to carefully reconcile historic slow-rolling with the level of ambition now required, partly by appeasing the exports (mining) and farming lobbies key to an Australian governing coalition. It also emphasizes the win for the suburbs and households, the other key component to bold Australian action — a complacent middle class.

Australian households could be saving $5000 a year by the end of this decade :

American households could be saving $2500 a year by the end of this decade :

Scotty “Roosevelt Churchill” Morrison addresses the Glasgow COP 26 conference :

World War Two presented an intractable problem for Winston Churchill. The situation looked miserable. With leadership in the face of adversity, he motivated England to “fight them on the beaches, fight them in the street.” He implored Roosevelt to join the effort, which America did with the “Arsenal of Democracy,” out-producing Germany in manufacturing the machines needed to win the war.

Climate change is such a war, and an even more intractable problem. As the Prime Minister of an enormous fossil fuel exporter, I know intimately the questions of economics, sovereignty, jobs and security, that make the politics as difficult as the science, the scale, and the timeline.

But I stand here today to make a commitment to the world that Australia will not only do its part, but that we are here to lead, and to help all nations meet our collective challenge. Built into the poetry and culture of our country are the stories of our great natural resources, but also of our fragile continent. Australia is a nation with everything to lose, but also everything to win. We have sunshine, we have industrial capacity, we have a willing and trained workforce.

The people of my nation are scared. They have experienced terrible fires, droughts, and floods, and the loss of our prized national assets such as the great barrier reef. They want action, they want leadership, they want vision, and they want optimism. We are in danger of a collective nihilism, particularly amongst our youth, if we do not provide for them a story where their future is bright, abundant, and better. They need to envision their role in a story of getting their nation, their planet, from here to a better there.

You will associate Australia’s name in climate circles with delay, deceit, and inaction. Today is the day that all of that changes. We have sharpened our pencils. We are a people of action and results, not a people of promises. We know what to do, and we know how to do it. We also know that we are responsible for an outsized portion of the carbon in the atmosphere, and we would like now to make up for that with an outsized response to stabilize and then improve our climate and our ecosystems.

Climate science really wants us to be better than net-zero 2050. Now is the time for no-delay, no-regrets, no-turning back action. In this decade to deliver, Australia will come through. Our plan comes in two parts. Part one is this decade, our domestic economy. Part two is next decade, our export economy.

We have achieved an economic miracle in Australia on the roofs of our citizen’s houses. Australian rooftop solar is the cheapest electricity delivered to the consumer anywhere in the world. We achieved this with classic public-private partnerships and a long term commitment to the industry. We will now do the same with the rest of our household and commercial energy systems. We will electrify everything: our vehicles, our comfort, our kitchens, our homes, our businesses. In Australia we might be a little slow at getting started, but once we get going, we get the job done. We know our citizens will enjoy the cheapest energy they’ve ever had, that their indoor air quality will improve, and their outdoor air quality as well. We know that our children will be healthier as will our waterways as we make this vital transition.

As you all care about dates and targets, we intend to set the mark and to lead. Because Australia is best positioned to go first, we will go first. We will eliminate carbon emissions from our domestic energy economy by 2030. We will show you the path, and we will partner with you with the technology solutions we develop along the way.

I have come to see Climate Change like Covid-19: a difficult problem that requires a vaccine. We know that electrification of everything is the vaccine for climate change, and we are going to develop that vaccine at Warp Speed, just as the Americans did with Covid. We also know that like Covid, we were more successful by going hard, and going early — our driving principle around climate change. By pushing harder and faster, our economy will reap the benefits of electrification sooner and we anticipate saving billions of dollars a year on our domestic cost of energy. We’ll show you how to do that, leading by example.

Many of you around the globe rely on our exports of fossil fuels, and on the world-class products of our agricultural sector. Fear not, we won’t cut you off from these commodities; we will transition with you, just as we will transition with our workforce, our businesses, our unions, and our farmers. Unlike the electrification technologies that can eliminate carbon from our homes and businesses, the technologies for zeroing out the emissions on our meat and wheat, our iron and aluminium, are not quite there. I also know that for many nations, your geography is not as favorable for renewables as ours, so part two of our plan is by 2040 to be providing green steel, green aluminum and the other critical materials of the zero emissions future: lithium, silicon, copper, rare-earths, even uranium. We have it all and will process it into the materials for the future using our abundant renewable electricity.

You see, we plan not just to be 100% clean energy by 2040, but 500%. We will be the world’s foundry, we’ll make the world’s ammonia and hydrogen, and we’ll even store the world’s carbon in rebuilding our soils through agricultural sequestration.

We will create savings in our suburbs, and jobs in our regions and show the world the pathway to whole-economy success. The time has come for action; the time has come to lead. As a small nation of hard-working, quiet achievers with everything to win, and everything to lose, we shall go first, and we shall go fastest. Let our ambition be your ambition. Please follow us, for your children and for ours.

Saul Griffith’s new book, Electrify: An Optimist’s Playbook for Our Clean Energy Future (MIT Press) is out Oct. 12, 2021.



Saul Griffith

Founder / Principal Scientist at Otherlab, an energy R&D lab, and co-founder/Principal Scientist at Rewiring America, a coalition to electrify everything.