A $333 billion green export opportunity is there for the taking, according to think tank Beyond Zero Emissions, if Australia can move quickly to secure a share of the market for clean commodities.
In its latest report, Export Powerhouse, BZE details the extent to which fossil fuels dominate Australian exports, but also puts a very large dollar figure on the potential export value of new clean commodities.
To “go for gold” and reap the biggest benefits, the report states, requires Australia to make a strong commitment to a clean export future, backed by public and private investment and progress on renewable energy industry precinct plans.
The report comes in a week dominated by mixed messages about the future of Australia’s fossil fuel exports in a net zero emissions world.
Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce reminded viewers of ABC Insiders that “fossil fuels are our nation’s largest export,” while Treasurer Josh Frydenberg highlighted new opportunities to export clean energy and critical minerals in an address to the Australian Industry Group.
At least the NSW Coalition government appears to understand the opportunities, announcing on Wednesday morning its intention to become a “renewable energy superpower”, and to cut emissions by 50 per cent by 2030. Liberal governments in South Australia and Tasmania have similar green export plans.
BZE CEO Heidi Lee told RenewEconomy the report is designed to, “shine a light on the possibilities and the opportunities for Australia to be just as proud of what comes next as we have been of what we’ve done so far.”
Currently, fossil fuels (coal, oil and liquefied natural gas) make up 39 per cent of Australia’s total commodity exports, the report states.
“That’s going to reduce to nothing in the next decades, because it’s fossil fuels, and no one’s going to want to buy our coal and gas in decades to come”, Lee said.
The climate think tank expects demand for these exports will decline, given net zero targets set by China, Japan, South Korea, the United States and the European Union, some of Australia’s largest trading partners.
“This is a critical time… for Australia to be reconsidering how we play a role in the global economy”, Lee said, citing the prospect of carbon border adjustments, and conversations in the lead up to the Glasgow climate change conference.
The report illustrates how green export industries, like green steel, renewable hydrogen and ammonia, green aluminium, and critical minerals, could eventually triple the value of existing fossil fuel exports by 2050.
Critical minerals make up around half of the opportunity, followed by green steel.
The biggest export opportunity comes via the most ambitious approach, under what the report calls a ‘go for gold’ scenario. This would involve Australia setting a clean commodities target of $100 billion by 2035, together with public and private investment in infrastructure, technologies and skills development.
Other recommendations include making green exports a priority for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Austrade and Export Finance Australia, establishing a $20 billion Supergrid Deployment Authority and launching Renewable Energy Industrial Precinct plan.
Two other scenarios in the report include ‘slow starter’ and ‘back of the pack’, a delayed approach where Australia maintains a reliance and focus on fossil fuels.
In August, Grattan Institute highlighted Australia’s potential as an exporter of critical minerals and called for the federal government should establish a $10 billion industrial transformation future fund to start “bending the curve” on industry emissions.
Petra Stock is a Master of Journalism student who has worked in climate change, renewable energy and transport. She also works part-time in climate change for the Australian Conservation Foundation.