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%.
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.
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:
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
- Gas with CCS
- Gas / diesel
- Black coal with CCS
- Black coal
- Brown coal
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:
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
Modelled employment and value added for forestry and agriculture
Australia’s intensive-use agricultural land (approximate, non-contiguous)
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.
Take steps to support implementation and remove barriers to emission reduction opportunities and technologies that are already mature and 'shovel ready'.
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.
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.
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.