A new report has confirmed that Australia already has almost all of the technological wherewithal it needs to get cracking on economy-wide decarbonisation in line with keeping global warming at or below 1.5°C – the only missing ingredient is a Coronavirus-style response from government.
The report, published on Saturday by ClimateWorks Australia, puts us in the “transformational decade” for addressing climate change, but warns that this effort needs to turbocharged by “all-in” action from governments, businesses and ordinary Australians.
“If there was ever a time that we could have confidence we can go all-in, all together, to bring forward investment in known zero-emissions solutions, that time is now,” said ClimateWorks CEO Anna Skarbek in comments at the report’s launch.
“The pandemic is causing extraordinary pain and disruption, but it also shows that businesses, individuals and all levels of government working together can achieve extraordinary results in response to a crisis.
“And the measures to address climate change that we identify in this report would not be anything like the economic shock we’re experiencing at the moment.”
Skarbek, like many others, notes a major discrepancy between the response from the federal Coalition government to the threat of the runaway spread of Covid-19, and the threat of runaway global warming.
As RenewEconomy has itself observed, the Morrison government has demonstrated it is capable of listening to the advice of scientific experts on such matters as “flattening the curve” of pandemic infection but still holds a tin ear to the science of catastrophic climate change, which has its own, terrifying curve.
This is worrying, says ClimateWorks, because since the release of its 2014 report charting the path to decarbonisation, the global carbon budget to enable the world to stay below 1.5° or 2°C of extra warming has diminished significantly.
“To achieve the Paris climate goals we have to halve our emissions by 2030 at the latest,” said ClimateWorks’ head of national programs, Amandine Denis-Ryan.
“We now know we have enough technological capacity in the Australian economy to get there. But we need to get these technologies out the door at every opportunity.”
The good news from the report – which ClimateWorks demonstrates by modelling three different decarbonisation scenarios – is that this is eminently doable, technologically and economically, and with many and varied benefits beyond, you know, saving the planet.
As various other reports have shown, the transition to a low carbon economy stands to deliver far more economic pluses than down-sides. But it simply won’t happen as fast as it needs to without the appropriate level of government ambition.
While the government is (very loosely) aiming to cut national emissions by 16% on 2005 levels by 2030, the report’s ‘2C Deploy’ and ‘2C Innovate’ scenarios – which would keep warming to 2°C (higher than scientists would like) through different combinations of existing and leading edge technologies and varying degrees of government and business action – benchmark a decrease of 48–53% by that time.
The ‘1.5C All-in’ scenario – which employs similar technologies from both the 2C scenarios, but assumes that governments will drive policies to limit emissions and facilitate technological innovations with collaboration between policy-makers, businesses and individuals across all sectors to target a much safer level of warming – requires an emissions reduction of 74% by 2030 and net zero by 2035. (Table 3.2).
But it can be done. That’s largely because, across all three scenarios, Australia’s energy mix reaches about 75% renewable electricity generation by 2030 using existing technologies (and excluding, completely, renewable hydrogen) and 100% by 2050 – compared to federal government projections of just under 50% by 2030.
As the report reminds us, most of the solutions required to achieve zero emissions in the electricity sector are mature and commercially competitive or have been demonstrated at scale, so the remaining challenge is to achieve widespread adoption over a short period of time.
Even accounting for the additional cost of vital renewable energy supporting technologies, such as battery storage and smart energy management solutions, the report stresses that renewables remain the cheapest new source of electricity. And battery storage costs continue to decline.
But even with our huge natural advantages in terms of its abundant solar and wind resources, and the lure of the cheap cost of renewables, Australia is unlikely to achieve the pace of transition required to reduce emissions through market forces alone.
And the policy dearth is not just on the renewable side, says ClimateWorks, but also on the side of the hard-to-budge incumbent fossil fuel generation industry. It will require policy and market intervention or pressure from businesses to retire existing generation, as well as investment in transmission infrastructure and a flexible grid, the report notes.
Similarly, in transport – a sector with massive potential to slash emissions, considering Australia has one of the world’s most energy-and emissions-intensive road vehicle fleets – government projections are depressingly unambitious with a view that by 2030 around one in five new cars purchased will be electric.
Under ClimateWorks modelling, that figure becomes one in two for ‘2C Deploy’ and ‘2C Innovate’ – and three in four for the ‘1.5C All-in’ scenario, by the same date.
Again, this is modelled on technology that is ready and waiting to be deployed at scale, but which needs a firm policy hand to get the ball rolling.
Beyond the electricity and transport sectors, the report models scenarios for land and agriculture, industry and buildings. All, again, mostly using technology and measures that are readily accessible, but need some massaging – and messaging – by the powers that be.
And if this can be done in response to a global pandemic, then it can certainly be done in response to global climate change.
“Although the modelled benchmarks might seem ambitious, they are by no means impossible,” the report says.
“The research highlights the progress being made – progress that must now be turbocharged, with governments, businesses and individuals mobilising to achieve faster change than under typical market conditions.”
RenewEconomy and its sister sites One Step Off The Grid and The Driven will continue to publish throughout the Covid-19 crisis, posting good news about technology and project development, and holding government, regulators and business to account. But as the conference market evaporates, and some advertisers pull in their budgets, readers can help by making a voluntary donation here to help ensure we can continue to offer the service free of charge and to as wide an audience as possible. Thankyou for your support.