An 18-year old university student is making a bid for a seat on the board of Australian biggest coal generation company, AGL Energy, in what he describes as a bid to help transform the nation’s biggest corporate polluter to a renewable energy powerhouse.
In a Greenpeace-backed campaign launched this week, first-year University of Melbourne student Ashjayeen Sharif has nominated himself for a director’s role at AGL, ahead of a vote at the company’s upcoming Annual General Meeting in September.
The self-described climate activist and “Victorian school striker” said that, as a young person facing a future ravaged by the impacts of runaway global warming, he had decided to take matters into his own hands and go “straight to the source” – Australia’s biggest remaining coal generator.
“AGL’s current leaders have shown they can’t be trusted to do the right thing on climate change, and so I’m stepping up to become a director, because I’m confident I could do a better job,” he said.
“It’s time for some fresh vision and some true climate leadership for AGL. I’m urging everyone who owns an AGL share – this is your chance to do the right thing by young people like me, and your own children, and ensure we have a safe climate future to grow up in.”
In an open letter to AGL staff and shareholders, Sharif points to the latest IPCC report on climate, which – as he puts it – has again warned what will happen if we don’t act with urgency and cease burning coal, oil and gas.
“Extreme fire seasons, crippling droughts, mass flooding. The collapse of our food systems, and incalculable damage to our economy. All of this will happen in my lifetime, and that of your children,” Sharif writes.
But he also points to the impact that stubbornly holding on to the status quo has had on AGL, as a company that has consistently failed to embrace the future.
“Last week, AGL announced losses of $2.06 billion. That’s what happens when you run a coal company in an increasingly renewable powered world,” he said.
“AGL’s current leadership has ignored climate science and failed to read the market. Now it’s costing shareholders and all Australians. If they won’t see sense, a first year university student like me can do a better job.”
As RenewEconomy has reported, AGL conceded back in June that it had been caught off guard by the pace of change underway in the Australian energy market due to a surge in new wind and solar projects that is changing the way that its main assets – its huge coal generators in Victoria and NSW – are operated.
“There is no longer the demand for these plans to operate as baseload,” chief operating office Markus Brokhof told investors in a briefing.
To try to turn the ship around, AGL is in the throes of a complex process of splitting the company into two: Accel Energy which will operate its fossil fuel assets, and a rebranded AGL Australia with a focus on renewables and retail services.
But not everyone is convinced that the company really “gets” the task ahead, including ITK analyst and regular RenewEconomy contributor, who in February argued that neither AGL or fellow gen-tailer Origin Energy had convinced investors they had a future.
In his open letter, Sharif says he wants AGL to bring forward the closure of its Loy Yang A and Bayswater coal-fired power stations to 2030 or earlier, so that “young people like me have a better chance at a safe, healthy future.”
And considering the fate of others who have tried to hurry the gen-tailer along its path to a low-carbon future – former CEO Andy Vesey comes to mind – it’s an ambitious campaign platform on which to run.
But ambition – and youth – is sorely needed. And, perhaps, so is activism targeting Australia’s major polluters and corporations. Goodness knows the federal government is not open to suggestions, even from the world’s top scientific authorities.
On a day when Queensland Nationals senator Matt Canavan chose to use the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Afghanistan to attempt to score a political point against cutting emissions, Sharif offers – quite literally – a much needed breath of fresh air. All power to him!