Climate Works ANU

Pathways to a low carbon future

How Australia can build a prosperous clean economy

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Technical partners

CSIRO Victoria University

Co-ordinating agencies

Clean economy

Australia can build a clean and prosperous economy. ClimateWorks and Australian National University, with CSIRO and the Centre of Policy Studies, have comprehensively modelled one of the many possible pathways to zero net emissions in Australia. The report shows that Australia can create a carbon neutral economy by 2050 using technologies that are already available or in development, while the economy continues to grow by 150%.

GDP Emissions

Learn more about the economic modelling

Global goal


All countries have agreed that to avoid dangerous climate change, global warming must be limited to 2 degrees celsius. To achieve this all countries, including Australia, will have to significantly strengthen their emissions reduction efforts. There are major risks for Australia if we don't act, but also big opportunities if we do.

Learn more about the 2 degree goal

The 4 pillars of a low carbon economy

For all countries, building low emissions energy systems relies on three pillars, and for Australia there is a fourth pillar of non-energy emissions reduction. Examples of the changes that occur between now and 2050 in our modelled pathway are provided below.

Using energy more efficiently

Taking advantage of advancements in technology and processes can help us use energy much more efficiently, and will not only reduce the amount of energy required but also deliver financial savings and productivity improvements. In the modelled pathway:

Energy consumption in buildings can be halved by 2050, meaning we could power twice as many buildings with the same amount of energy.

In 2050, cars - most of which are electric - could drive almost 4 times as far than today with the same amount of energy input.

Australian industry is able to more than double production by 2050 without using any additional energy.

Households and businesses will reap the benefits, including financial savings, improved comfort in homes and offices and better air quality.

Learn more about energy efficiency

Producing low carbon electricity

A transformation of the energy system can be achieved by replacing old fossil fuel generators with low emissions alternatives. Three scenarios were modelled, and each could deliver near zero emissions electricity at similar cost. In all scenarios, electricity production increases significantly by 2050 due to large-scale electrification (see next section). The charts below show electricity production in each scenario.

  • Other renewables
  • Solar
  • Nuclear
  • Gas with CCS
  • Gas / diesel
  • Black coal with CCS
  • Black coal
  • Brown coal

Learn more about low carbon electricity

Electrification and cleaner fuels

With low carbon electricity, many energy-using activities in transport, industry and buildings can be decarbonised by switching from fossil fuels to electricity. Some activities not suited to electrification can be powered through bio-energy or gas. In our modelled pathway:

Almost all new cars sold in 2050 are electric.

Where possible, trucks are replaced by electric conveyors for moving materials out of mines.

By 2050, gas appliances in homes and commercial buildings are replaced with high-efficiency electric alternatives.

Half of all aircraft in 2050 can run on next generation biofuels, produced without competing with food production

Learn more about electrification and cleaner fuels

Non-energy emissions and offsetting

Non-energy emissions from industrial and agricultural processes can be reduced by capturing and storing the gases, and through process improvements. A profitable shift of some livestock grazing to carbon forestry can offset any remaining emissions. The chart below illustrates the modelled shift in land-use in the intensive zone, and shows that the forestry and agriculture sector as a whole would continue to grow strongly to 2050.

Land use for Australia’s intensive-use agricultural land

Use of Australia’s intensive-use agricultural land (Mha)

Modelled employment and value added for forestry and agriculture

Real value added ($m, 2012 prices)
# full and part-time jobs ('000 persons)

Australia’s intensive-use agricultural land (approximate, non-contiguous)

Australia’s intensive-use agricultural land

Learn more about non-energy emissions and offsetting

Choose your own pathway

The ClimateWorks and ANU scenario is just one of many possible pathways for Australia to transition to a low carbon economy over the next three and a half decades. The 2050 Pathways Calculator lets you create your own alternative pathways to a low carbon economy for Australia.

The action plan for a low carbon economy

The 2050 Pathways project models one potential pathway to zero net emissions in Australia, and shows that it can be done. While there are many other potential pathways, and the possibility of technological breakthroughs and innovations, these three steps should guide decision making.

Accelerate action

Take steps to support implementation and remove barriers to emission reduction opportunities and technologies that are already mature and 'shovel ready'.

Prevent lock-in

Ensure that long-lived assets such as buildings and power stations take advantage of the latest technologies in order to avoid 'locking in' high emissions for years to come

Prepare for the future

Invest now in research and development to improve knowledge and reduce the cost of technologies, as well as building the required skills and supply chains.

Global collaboration

This Australian analysis is part of the global Deep Decarbonisation Pathways project. Pathways were created by research teams from 15 countries including most major economies, representing over 70 per cent of global emissions.

World Map
South Africa
South Korea
United Kingdom
United States


Australia's modelled pathway reaches zero net emissions by increasing renewable energy - mostly solar - to 84 per cent and offsetting the remaining emissions through carbon forestry.


In Brazil's pathway, a shift towards using trains and waterways to ship freight, extending public transport infrastructure, and an ambitious biofuel program significantly reduce the energy intensity of Brazil's transport sector.


Energy efficiency in buildings in Canada has improved substantially in recent years, and in Canada's pathway, forthcoming energy efficiency regulations put the buildings sector on a trajectory toward nearly complete decarbonisation.


Carbon capture and storage (CCS) plays an important role in China's modelled pathway, where it is applied to 90 per cent of coal and 80 per cent of gas power plants in China by 2050 to significantly reduce emissions from the industry and power sectors.


More than two thirds of buildings that will exist in 2050 are already built in France. In France's pathway, energy efficiency of buildings is improved through increased retrofitting of existing homes, and enforcing proposed standards ensuring new buildings reach zero energy consumption from 2020.


In Germany's pathway, the carbon intensity of transport is improved through passenger vehicles efficiency measures and electric and hydrogen-fueled vehicles, including hydrogen-fueled trucks and electricity-fueled freight trains.


India's pathway involves a large amount of grid-connected renewables and nuclear power which together could meet the need to increased energy supply in line with economic growth and broadening access to reliable power.


In Indonesia's plan, the country's extensive natural resources are used to increase biofuels in transport, industry and power generation, while its many small, isolated, rural communities could receive electricity for the first time using local renewable resources such as solar PV.


Japan plans to phase out nuclear power as the country's existing power plants come to the end of their life. Its pathway involves a shift towards renewable energy sources, in particular solar, wind and fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage.


Vehicle ownership doubled in Mexico from 2000 to 2010 causing significant greenhouse gas emission increases. In Mexico's pathway, transport emissions are greatly reduced by switching from gasoline and diesel to electricity and natural gas, and increasing investment in and use of public transport.


In Russia's pathway, nuclear and large hydropower replace ageing and highly efficient fossil-fuel power stations.

South Africa

South Africa has historically had a resource-intensive energy system. It's pathway involves a switch from coal-fired generation to concentrated solar power generation with storage, with solar accounting for almost 90 per cent of power generation by 2050 and providing more equal access to energy access across the country.

South Korea

The manufacturing sector was the dominant source of emissions in South Korea in 2010. South Korea's pathway sees manufacturing almost decarbonised by 2050 through efficiency improvements and substituting power from fossil fuels with renewables and nuclear.

United Kingdom

The UK's pathway involves a diversified electricity sector, with around a third nuclear, a third CCS and most of the remainder from renewables, predominantly wind. Efficiency of buildings is substantially improved, including a plan to make all new homes carbon neutral.

United States

Significant improvements in end-use energy efficiency are critical to deep decarbonisation in the US pathway, including improved codes and standards and transport efficiency measures. The US pathway sees a diversification of energy supply, including renewables, CCS and nuclear.

Take the next step

The community, business, government and researchers all have a role to play in achieving a prosperous transition to a low carbon economy in Australia

Share the story

Take action in your business


Accelerate implementation of profitable low carbon opportunities.


Ensure all investments - particularly in long-lived assets - are compatible with a low carbon economy


Integrate decarbonisation into business planning, including through identification of business risks and opportunities

Conduct further research

ClimateWorks is keen to partner with researchers to improve understanding of the challenges and opportunities in the transition to a low carbon economy. Please use this form to get in touch with us.
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This measure received funding from ARENA as part of ARENA's Emerging Renewables Program.

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