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Australia Has Technology to Hit Net Zero, But No Time to Waste, New Decarbonization Study Finds

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Australia has the technology in hand to bring its greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050, but will have to speed up adoption to hit the deadline, according to a yet-to-be-published analysis by ClimateWorks Australia.

“Looking just at the domestic economy, not the export economy, the technology mix is available for Australia to achieve net-zero emissions within the carbon budget the science requires for 2°C and for 1.5°C,” said ClimateWorks CEO and former investment banker Anna Skarbek. But “if we want to achieve 1.5°C instead of 2°C warming,” she warned, “we can’t afford any of these areas to be going slower than they could. It’s all in.”

The research “suggests transitioning to net-zero will require Australia’s electricity market to be 100% renewables by 2035, as well as achieving deep energy efficiency and electrification in buildings, and an accelerated rollout of electric vehicles,” The Guardian reports, citing a pre-publication presentation at Australian National University. “To remain within 2°C warming, Australia would need at least half of all new cars in 10 years’ time to be electric vehicles. On a trajectory of staying within 1.5°C, it would be three in four cars. Current government projections point to one in five cars sold.”

To hit the 100% renewables target by 2035, ClimateWorks says Australia would have to boost its 2030 renewables generation target from 50 to 70%.

Skarbek said the outlook for decarbonization has improved in the five years since ClimateWorks’ last pathways report, due to rapid improvements in technology. But The Guardian says the discussion unfolded “amid a resumption of the climate wars in federal politics,” with Prime Minister Scott Morrison criticizing the opposition Labor party for signing on to a 2050 net-zero target without a detailed roadmap to achieve it, but the government not ruling out adopting its own target.

“The government will shortly release its own technology roadmap, work that forms part of its deliberations on driving the transition to low emissions,” The Guardian says. “Morrison has said repeatedly he will not commit to any target beyond 2030 without understanding the costs, and the impact on jobs.”

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 2, 2020 10:48 pm GMT

The research “suggests transitioning to net-zero will require Australia’s electricity market to be 100% renewables by 2035

Is this aggressive target achievable in reality though? I would assume that no 100% renewable grid would be achievable without an affordably and massive storage market, which to my knowledge is not yet something that's predicted-- is 15 years enough time to get storage on the scale needed? Or will there be a degree of baseload generation still available in this time?

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 3, 2020 8:27 am GMT

Thank you for that dose of reality, Matt. The idea Australia could be 100% renewable by 2035 reveals an embarrassing lack of perspective - as does the idea EVs are less carbon-intensive than gasoline, if they're charged with coal-fired power. As does the notion "storage" represents some kind of magical cure for renewable intermittency.

"Australia Has Technology to Hit Net Zero...New Decarbonization Study Finds," says the link, with no data, no study, nothing but idle fantasy to back it up. Talk has never been cheaper.

The Energy  Mix's picture
The Energy Mix on Mar 3, 2020 6:27 pm GMT

Good questions, Matt. The story links through to the original Guardian report, which in turn talks about a study by ClimeWorks Australia. I'm guessing they would relish the  discussion if you sent your questions in their direction.

In general, as you know, we see very promising scenario reports from time to time, pointing to what's possible in a short period of time if governments, businesses, institutions, and everyone else get down to it. The analogy I've been hearing for years is that the climate crisis demands a mobilization on the scale of the Second World War. I wasn't there at the time (not quite), and I gather there wasn't unanimity then, either. But I do know that the Allies didn't take decades consulting and debating before swinging into action, and they certainly didn't spend those years lavishly subsidizing the root cause of the problem they were facing.

So my sense of this kind of story is that it's doable -- recalling the IPCC's media launch for its 1.5°C scenarios report in 2018 -- if we bear in mind that political will and the public demand behind it are the last box to check, then set about creating the momentum we need. If a reality like the Scott Morrison government means that things taking longer in real life...that isn't the model's fault.

And if online platforms see fit to allow comments that write off the work of a credible research organization as idle fantasy and cheap talk...that's not something the model can fix, either.

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