Singtel/Optus gets it right in the face of firestorms and a changing climate


Just before Optus updated media and customers about its efforts to restore communications to fire-ravaged regions of New South Wales on the weekend, Bloomberg reported that the telco’s parent company Singtel “is concerned about the impact of climate change on its business” and will sign an agreement by mid-2020 to purchase renewable energy in Australia.

“As a result of the bushfires across NSW, some Optus customers across parts of the Mid North Coast, including residents and businesses in Taree and Foster-Tuncurry may be experiencing disruptions,” to their mobile and data services, “due to power outages which are affecting some mobile towers in the area,” began an Optus press release issued late morning on Saturday, November 9, as fires raged ahead of the traditional summer bushfire season.

The media and Twittersphere had already ignited with disbelief at Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s response when he was asked whether the unseasonal and unusually ferocious fires engulfing parts of NSW and Queensland could be linked to climate change.

The Prime Minister had replied, “My only thoughts of the day are with those who have lost their lives and their families, firefighters who are fighting the fires, the response effort that has to be delivered and how the Commonwealth has to respond and support those efforts.”

At that stage, three people were confirmed to have died, and some 150 homes had been destroyed by this latest batch of blazes roaring through unusually tinder-dry landscapes.

Inaction beckons continuing catastrophe

Of itself the Prime Minister’s response was not unreasonable, but in the context of the Government’s wilful inaction on climate change it seemed worse than inadequate.

On the ground, the Optus network operations team was working with emergency services to secure access to mobile tower sites and restore communications. In evacuation centres it was providing pre-paid mobile phones, data packs and charging stations.

On a larger scale, Singtel/Optus has recognised global warming as a business and societal impact since 2015, when it first identified climate change in the “Group’s stakeholder engagement and materiality review”.

Since then it has strategically reduced its carbon emissions intensity by 64%. 

In the Singtel Group Sustainability Report 2019, the group’s CEO, Chua Sock Koong, and Chairman Simon Israel wrote, “As the first company in Asia excluding Japan to have our carbon reduction targets approved by Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) in 2017, we continue to focus on energy efficiency measures to reduce our energy and carbon emissions levels…”

Also in the Report, Singtel stated … “we are currently requesting proposals from suppliers of larger scale sources of renewable energy over a longer period of time leading up to 2030 and aligned with our SBTi targets.”

Friday’s Bloomberg announcement suggests the company will soon add renewable-energy contracts to the widespread efficiency measures implemented as part of its concerted energy programs.


Singtel is now collating data to better understand how climate change will increase the costs of doing business.

Image: Singtel Group

The words “science”, “carbon emissions”, “climate change” and “aspiration” have never been sensibly linked in Federal Coalition government rhetoric, yet Singtel can clearly articulate the effect on its future from climate change: “Global warming leading to national disasters, impacting our business and infrastructure”, says a Sustainability Report infographic.

When “000” is overwhelmed, who can we call for a “climate emergency”?

Just days before the more than 80 fires erupted across two Eastern Australian states, 11,000 scientists around the world declared a climate emergency, calling on governments to implement carbon taxes, and stop supporting fossil fuel extraction.

On Friday, November 9, numerous Australian scientists asked by the Australian Science Media Centre to comment on the unfolding bushfire disaster, gave measured explanations of its causes and the conditions in which the fires are taking hold.

“The devastating bushfires in NSW and Queensland are unprecedented in terms of being so early going into the south-eastern Australian bushfire season, and where they are burning. These areas have rarely had intense fires because of their moist soils and vegetation. However, the fire situation is consistent with our new world of bushfire threat associated with climate change,” said Adjunct Professor Jim McLennan, a Bushfire Safety Researcher in the School of Psychology and Public Health at La Trobe University.

The University of Tasmania’s Professor of Pyrogeography and Fire Science, David Bowman, who leads the School of Natural Sciences’ Fire Centre Research Hub, said, “I believe It is now timely and appropriate for a discussion of the linkage between climate change and bushfire to occur, noting we need to acknowledge uncertainties and complexities.  

“As a society we are running out of time to adapt to climate change driven bushfires, and policy failure will lead to escalating disasters that have the capacity to eclipse the worst disasters we have experienced.”

A time for understanding and urgent preparation

The overriding message from the Australian scientific community is that the country is no longer projecting what the effects of climate change might be, but is living the first wave of cause and effect.

If a telecommunications company can acknowledge and act on the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report that called for a reduction in the limit for global warming — from 2 degrees Celsius to 1.5 degrees Celsius; if it can implement a long-term strategy to preserve the viability of its business, and also respond with humanity as disasters manifest …

What could a Federal Government do to mitigate the future effects of carbon recklessness, and effectively prepare its people for some now unstoppable consequences of worldwide inaction?


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