Anna Rose
Every Brilliant Thing rehearsal room.


By Caitlin Fitzsimmons
SMH 8 December 2023

When Anna Rose was filming I Can Change Your Mind About Climate for the ABC more than a decade ago, her mission was to convert former Liberal senator and renowned climate sceptic Nick Minchin.

The experience reshaped Rose’s approach to climate activism instead. The defining moment came on the last day of filming, at Heron Island research station on the Great Barrier Reef.

“We were walking on the beach and I asked what his advice would be for me as a climate
advocate trying to get Australia to go on this climate journey,” Rose recalls.

“I said, ‘I want to know your advice because we actually need people like you … to be engaged in this discussion’ and he said, ‘That’s very refreshing because you’re the first [climate activist] I’ve met who hasn’t just yelled at me and called me a denier and a delayer.’ ”

They went on to have a constructive conversation about renewable energy.

(Minchin says he has “fond memories” of filming the documentary and respected Rose, but his views that humans were not causing dangerous global warming have not changed.)

She shares this story over lunch at Lucky Kwong in Sydney earlier this week, just hours before she flies to Dubai for the United Nations climate change conference COP28.

At the time of her discussion with Minchin, Rose was 28 and had been beating the climate drum in progressive circles for half her life.

She was the founder of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, and one-half of an activist power couple with Simon Sheikh, who ran grassroots lobby GetUp! from 2008 to 2012.

Now 40, Rose devotes her time, as founder and chief executive of Environmental Leadership Australia, working with Liberal and National Party politicians on climate change. She is also co-founder and a board member of Farmers for Climate Action.

She is taking seven Coalition politicians to COP28, arranging introductions to climate-minded conservative politicians from other countries, and briefings from experts such as the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Citi’s head of sustainability investing.

Joining Rose and her team are federal MP and shadow minister Paul Fletcher, Senator Maria Kovacic, NSW shadow ministers Matt Kean and Kellie Sloane, NSW upper house member Jacqui Munro, and Queensland shadow ministers Sam O’Connor and Steve Minnikin.

Rose says recent events in NSW have strengthened her conviction that working with Coalition politicians is where she can make a difference, admitting this would “surprise 20-year-old Anna”.

Under the former Coalition state government, with the support of Labor and most of the crossbench, NSW set some of the most ambitious emission reduction targets in Australia and was one of the first jurisdictions globally to pledge net zero by 2050.

Last week, the Minns Labor government was forced by the opposition and crossbench to strengthen an emissions bill to include an interim target of a 70 per cent reduction by 2035.

Rose says this is the “race to the top” that climate policy needs, and vindicates her push for bipartisanship.

Her team includes former Liberal advisers who help her navigate the conservative political world, where she has “quiet conversations” to share facts and debunk misinformation.

“I don’t believe we’ll get lasting progress on climate change until we have all sides of politics engaging constructively,” Rose says.

Rose acknowledges some people have entrenched views or don’t engage in good faith. But, she says, there are also Coalition politicians in every parliament in Australia who are engaged deeply on the issue.

Many in Rose’s extended family, populated by farmers on one side and conservative Christians on the other, are Coalition voters.

When I ask if she would regard herself as conservative, she pauses for a long time before saying that she is “just very focused on climate”. She knows not everyone agrees, but she doesn’t see it as an issue that belongs solely to one side of politics.

Rose and Sheikh are now married and have an eight-year-old son. In 2013 Sheikh ran unsuccessfully for the Greens in the Senate. A year later he founded the climate-focused retail superannuation fund Future Super where he is still chief executive.

Rose lectured at the Australian National University, ran Earth Hour for WWF, worked at the Myer Foundation, then started Farmers for Climate Action in 2016 and Environmental Leadership Australia in 2019.

The financial security from the success of Future Super and the philanthropists who back Environmental Leadership Australia enables Rose to focus on the work she considers most meaningful and strategic.

“Now we’ve both got grown-up jobs and can afford a babysitter, so it’s a very different stage of life,” Rose says.

She and Sheikh talked a lot about what it would mean to have a child in a time of climate change, and being a parent has increased her commitment to the cause.

The family lives in Randwick, walking distance to Rose’s office through Centennial Park. Rose spends her weekends ferrying her son to sport and birthday parties, which she says keeps her grounded.

When I ask if she takes on more of the child-rearing load, she agrees at first, then changes her mind, saying it’s equal and Sheikh carries more of the mental load. Rose also spends a lot of time in Canberra for work.

When in Sydney, they always eat dinner as a family. Rose enjoys cooking, which is how she came to produce a cookbook, Planet to Plate, for Earth Hour in 2015. The book partners farmers, scientists and chefs, including Margaret Fulton, Neil Perry, Kylie Kwong and Matt Preston, to explain how climate change affects food.

Kwong’s past collaboration with Rose and her focus on organic and locally grown produce is behind our choice of lunch venue. We share steamed prawn wontons, and savoury pancakes with Tasmanian scallops, along with egg noodles and a colourful array of vegetables. The dishes feature native bush mint and native salt bush, grown metres from where we sit.

It’s delicious but we can’t finish it all, so in the spirit of sustainability, we each take a cardboard container of leftover food.

In the same waste-busting vein, she declines to unbutton her blazer for our photographer because it is hiding a stain on her blue silk blouse. The top is precious because it was designed by her friend Genevieve Smart, and she can’t bear to throw away something that could still be worn. She says she appears organised but is actually “chronically messy”, something I admit we have in common.

Rose smiles a lot and never gives glib answers; she comes across as warm and genuine. Her face lights up when she can please me by recalling a funny anecdote or revealing something people might not know about her.

One story involved a farmer called John. He got up to speak at the end of a three-day summit and suddenly pulled down his trousers though not his underpants. He memorably explained that coming out as gay in his small rural community felt easier than declaring himself pro-climate action, but he was now going to “bare it all”.

If Rose has a superpower, it is her ability to get along with different people. She has also worked with actors and musicians such as Simon Baker, Yael Stone, Claudia Karvan, Holly Rankin and Paul Kelly, appeared on stage with the Dalai Lama, and met Bill Clinton.

Her mother, a Buddhist, wanted to attend the Dalai Lama event, but couldn’t because she was receiving cancer treatment. Rose says the Tibetan religious leader gave her a white scarf for her mother, who later made a full recovery.

A Buddhist mother is another thing we have in common. We compare notes: Rose’s mother became a Buddhist when Rose was 10 (mine when I was eight), while Rose’s father is Christian. Rose did not become a Buddhist herself (nor did I), but she believes her mother’s Zen approach to life rubbed off and helps her get on with so many different people.

Rose was 13 when her parents divorced. She and her sister grew up in Newcastle, but spent school holidays visiting relatives’ farms in the Liverpool Plains and Hunter Valley. When Rose learned about climate change, then known as “the enhanced greenhouse effect”, in year 8 science, and how it might affect farming, she was devastated.

She formed a school environmental group, and they planted trees, set up recycling and composting and successfully campaigned against a local coal mine. Teenage Rose also juggled two jobs, one at a hot chicken shop and one at a health food store, first to save for a surfboard, and then because she liked the independence.

The daughter of two teachers, Rose excelled academically. She won a scholarship to the University of Sydney, and gained a first in law in her arts/law degree. She was editor of Honi Soit student newspaper, and elected to the Student Representative Council and the National Union of Students.

She needs that work ethic now more than ever because her job is no longer about the big picture, but requires her to be across the technical details.

How to understand the COP28 climate talks in four charts

“It’s not about raising awareness any more, it’s about how many gigawatts of solar and wind we can build and how many kilometres of transmission lines we need,” she says. “I like to do the homework - it brings out the inner nerd in me.”

While she has moved on from youth climate advocacy, she still believes in it and supports the young people in the School Strike for Climate.

Climate change is a topic that drives many people to despair, so Rose’s positivity is striking. She says we are fighting for every 0.1 of a degree, and there is still time.

“You couldn’t be working on climate for as long as I have been if you’re not optimistic that we can turn things around,” she says.

Lunch with… Anna Rose: Australia’s climate change activist refers to work with conservatives (

IMAGE: Climate activist Anna Rose now focuses on working with Coalition politicians. CREDIT:DOMINIC LORRIMER