How Australia can reach zero emissions by 2050: Start now | RenewEconomy

How Australia can reach zero emissions by 2050: Start now

Australia can ramp up its emissions targets and still lock in strong growth and jobs. Renewable energy, and solar in particular, will play a critical role along with energy efficiency. But the thermal coal sector is all but wiped out.


australia-carbon-emissions-rising_244The Australian Coalition government – by several reports – has quietly agreed on a long term target that could mean zero emissions, or at least “carbon neutrality” by 2050, and a new analysis from ClimateWorks shows how this can be done.

As prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and several senior ministers prepare to arrive in Paris with emissions targets and policies that have little to with their public rhetoric, not to mention the globally agreed 2C target, the new report from ClimateWorks shows how Australian can reach zero emissions by 2050, and still maintain strong economic and jobs growth, and cut costs to consumers.

ClimateWorks suggests that Australia could easily cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 50 per cent by 2030 – compared to its current target of 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels. Even the Abbott government’s own modelling suggests there is little if any additional impact from higher abatement targets.

The difference with the report from ClimateWorks is that a renewable energy target of at least 50 per cent would be key to this, along with strong energy efficiency measures, both of which seem to be anathema to the current government.

Anna Skarbek, the CEO of ClimateWorks, says that work needs to begin now.

“The next 15 years are critical to laying the groundwork for a cleaner and more prosperous Australian economy,” she says. “Our economy has a history of successful adaptation to global economic trends and there is every reason to believe that we can also adapt to a net carbon-pollution free economy.”

Like the Greens roadmap to 90 per cent renewables by 2030, and the International Energy Agency’s own roadmap to reach the 2C target, the ClimateWorks research focuses heavily on renewable energy and energy efficiency, as well as a big shift towards electrification of transport, fuel switching, carbon capture in industry, and forestry and land use.


Critically, ClimateWorks focuses on the household costs of such initiatives, as these seem to be the first recourse of the decriers of renewable energy and climate initiatives by the Coalition government and most of those in mainstream media.

It says the government should accelerating emissions reduction activities which are already profitable. These include improving vehicle technology (such as emission standards) for passenger and goods transport, improving efficiencies in residential and commercial buildings.

It is also about encouraging and adopting smart urban and architectural design, building practices and construction materials, optimising value chains, improving industry equipment, material efficiency and production processes (such as cogeneration through reuse of waste heat).

For households, the benefits are obvious. “Simple actions such as replacing light bulbs and showerheads with more efficient ones, installing an energy saving plug to cut down the use of standby power of appliances and reducing clothes dryer use can already save typical households between $120 and $590 a year.”

As a result of energy efficiency in the home and car, the report says overall household energy costs could be reduced by more than 11 per cent in 2030, despite increased up-front costs and higher electricity prices.

Given that household income is expected to increase by over 20 per cent during this period (based on GDP per capita), this roughly equates to a 25 per cent reduction in energy and transport spend as a proportion of household income.

On energy, ClimateWorks suggests a minimum target of 50 per cent renewable energy, which could end up being much higher if more ambitious assumptions are made around technological advancement, cost reductions and the rate of uptake of renewable energy relative to other competing sources.

climateworks solar

It uses this table (above) to show that Australia could source 69 per cent of its generation from renewables in 2030, rising to 100% in 2050.

“Importantly, in each scenario modelled to achieve a 2 degree pathway, renewables contributed at least 50% of the generation to 2030 regardless of the technology mix used to achieve this goal,” it says. And solar, in blue, plays a dominant role in both the 2030 energy mix, and even more in the 2050 energy mix.

“While all scenarios modelled for achieving at least 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030 require greater investment in electricity, this is still far less than historical investments in oil and gas.”

climateworks output

But not everyone will be happy. This graph above shows that the output from coal generation is not just going to fall, it will be all but wiped out. Coal mining will also be badly affected, as will oil extraction. But growth in other industries will more than make up for that loss.

“The decline in the contribution of some sectors to the Australian economy is largely offset by growth in industries associated with renewable electricity generation and forestry. The usefulness of forestry in offsetting non-energy greenhouse gases could see this becoming a major industry in rural Australia.

“Although coal mining would decrease, global demand for minerals needed for the production of renewables – such as lithium – would increase, leading to an overall increase in mining production in Australia.

“In addition to lithium, Australia has an abundant supply of minerals that will be in high demand in a carbon-constrained world, such as rare earth and platinum group elements.”

Indeed, the report underlines the point that lifestyles will remain largely unaffected by a shift to a low carbon economy.

“Because deep decarbonisation does not drive major structural shifts to our economy, employment can remain focused on the services sector and industrial sector as it is today.”

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  1. Math Geurts 5 years ago

    To save the climate: the first thing Australia should do is to stop exporting coal.

    • Mike Dill 5 years ago

      That will happen by itself as India and China burn less.

  2. Geoff 5 years ago

    it takes more than just coal to stop global warming. other elements like methane and nitrous oxide produced by agriculture, fertilizers and cement manufacture need to be controlled and capped as well. Nitrogen has already exceeded the planetary boundary. deforestation needs to stop as the oceans are decreasing their CO2 input and O2 output due to acidification which in turn is due to a warming climate…

  3. Robert Comerford 5 years ago

    It seems the devil is in the detail when it comes to India. Percentages can look good but continually ramping up coal use at the same time as adding renewables to the mix fixes nothing.

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