How one billionaire is doing his own climate activism

How one billionaire is doing his own climate activism
Source: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

Companies make a lot of big promises about what they’re doing to combat climate change, but it probably isn’t shocking to hear that many of them don’t follow through. For example, a study that came out in February, which included a close look at companies like Google, Amazon and Nestle, found that despite lots of “net-zero” promises, these pledges will only offset about 40% of their emissions.

Well, Mike Cannon-Brookes is tired of that.

For some background, Cannon-Brookes is a big name in Australia; he’s the country’s fourth-richest person and the co-founder of Atlassian. The company creates software for developers and team leaders to keep track of things. He’s worth an estimated US$17 billion.

See, he recently bought a bunch of shares in an Australian utility company called AGL, one of the country’s biggest polluters. It was on track to keep coal-powered plants around for at least the next 20 years, but when he bought all those shares, he basically said he wasn’t going to let that happen. So now, AGL is making a lot of changes and will hopefully be on a much better track when it comes to its climate emissions.

AGL isn’t the only company he’s frustrated with, though. “I could write most of their net zero plans on the back of an envelope,” he said.

Essentially, he combines his wealth and influence to get climate action done through “investor-led activism.” He and Annie, his wife, say they want to spend at least US$1.5 billion before 2030. At least US$1 billion of that will go to investments in companies where change can happen, but there just needs to be investor support for it.

“My money is out the door in eight years,” said Cannon-Brookes. “I’m not building a big foundation and having money sit there.”