An Australian renewable energy export industry could create almost 400,000 new jobs and become more valuable to the Australian economy than current coal and gas exports, a new report commissioned by business groups, unions and environmental organisations has found.
The new report – jointly published by the Australian Conservation Foundation, WWF Australia, the union group ACTU and the Business Council of Australia – estimates that almost $90 billion in new trade could be secured for Australia through investments in clean energy exports.
Supplying a burgeoning global market for renewable hydrogen and ammonia products would provide Australia with the most significant new export opportunities, with green metals, minerals and battery manufacturing also set to emerge as massive export markets.
ACF chief executive Kelly O’Shanassy said the report shows that there was a key opportunity to transition away from Australia’s reliance on fossil fuels for export income.
“Real action to tackle climate change requires a rapid shift away from fossil fuel exports. The good news is Australia can replace and grow the revenue and jobs from coal and gas exports with clean exports,” O’Shanassy said.
“As the world moves away from coal and gas, Australia can retain our mantle as an energy export superpower with critical minerals, renewable energy and green steel, hydrogen and aluminium.”
“We need to act decisively. Climate damage is harming Australians and we’re not the only nation in the world with the natural advantages and know-how to become a clean energy superpower. We need genuine national leadership to secure our future,” O’Shanassy added.
The report, authored by Accenture, found that around half of Australia’s existing exports were at risk in a global transition towards decarbonisation, including fossil fuels and products currently dependent on fossil fuels for their production, such as steel and aluminium.
Australia is currently a leading global supplier of fossil fuels, serving 42 per cent of the world’s coal export market and around 22 per cent of the gas export market.
But Accenture said that Australia’s status as a fossil fuel supplier was becoming increasingly risky, with around two-thirds of Australia’s export markets now subject to a target of reaching zero net emissions by 2060 or earlier.
At the same time, the report found that Australia was particularly well placed to seize the benefits of a global shift to cleaner energy sources, with Australia’s abundance of high-quality wind and solar resources providing it with a competitive advantage over most countries.
Likewise, Australia has an abundance of materials like lithium, zinc, iron, nickel and rare-earth materials – all of which are used in the production of clean energy technologies, like batteries, electric vehicles, wind turbines and solar power.
A future market for these green energy supplies and green materials could eventually grow to surpass the value of Australia’s fossil fuel industry, Accenture found.
WWF Australia president Martijn Wilder said that regional communities would be amongst the biggest winners from an Australian export industry focused on clean energy.
“With smart investments, it is regional communities, particularly those that currently depend on carbon-intensive industries, that stand to benefit the most from Australia becoming a renewable export superpower,” Wilder said.
“As our international trading partners work to meet their climate targets, there will be voracious demand for renewables and zero-carbon commodities. Our federal and state governments need to work together with the private sector to take advantage of this growing demand, creating new jobs and investment opportunities.”
“We can’t afford to squander this once in a century opportunity. However, the window is closing because Australia is being outspent by other nations,” Wilder added.
Business Council of Australia chief, Jennifer Westacott, who recently unveiled the group’s newfound commitment to tackling climate change, said Australian businesses were already responding to decarbonisation commitments being made by Australia’s major trading partners.
“Our biggest trading partners are already making this transition and Australian businesses are already acting to respond to global capital,” Westacott said.
“Acting now puts us in the box seat to take advantage of our world class skills, abundant resources and proximity to markets to secure existing jobs and create new ones.”
The groups issued a joint call for five core actions from governments to accelerate Australia’s transition to clean energy exports.
These include the creation of new clean export precincts, a $10 billion clean export investment fund, a $5 billion fund to support workers transitioning into new industries and a target to add at least 6GW of hydrogen production capacity by 2027.